Once upon a time, so the old beginning goes, there was a group of children who, individually and collectively, I felt were almost too subtle, sublime and exquisite in being for the majority of adults to see. I saw this in them, and they — for the most part — saw me. I was privileged, every day, to spend time with them at play, though it was a make-do play sometimes, in a make-do environment, with make-do stuff and make-do ways of navigating. I don’t know for sure what the children thought about my presence but I trust that it was (by way of registering their actions around me, their tellings of the great importances and important trivialities of their lives to me, their trust) a process of thinking that was not about a make-do adult. Once upon a time this group of children, willingly, gave me all the treasure within themselves that they, perhaps, would not or could not fully give to certain others. This writing is in appreciation; this story is a story of children and time.
When children play, they play in the now of course, but they also often bring with them a great richness of time, of play-in-time, of time-in-play, of play-times. That is to say, the play of the now is soaked through with the play that has been, once, and with play that has been, many times; this play is also threaded through with the richness of relating. Often when I’m out walking with family children, we reach a place where, once, we played this or that, or we joked here, or we talked about such and such there and it morphed into something played and funny or significant in other ways; when we reach that place again, that once-was-play becomes significant again, re-played. The place is a place because it is full of time and times. It is the same on a playground, for example, full of children. As each day passes, each place within the overall place of the playground becomes stronger for the play that once was; it shines brighter, or it seems to have more mass. The greater the mass, the greater the gravity.
This story is a story of children and time . . .
It stretches over a year. I don’t know when I first noticed it in this playground place, but somewhere along the line I started experiencing the phenomena of repetitions of play around me and absorbing me. Sometimes these were small moments of play, sometimes they were larger and longer. A girl of six or seven would show me her wobbly tooth, every day, smiling and saying nothing (it was an everydayness of play); later she would appear at my side, calm and quiet, not needful, as I read it, just saying nothing, gently smiling and then gently following me around for a while before disappearing again; a boy, that summer, kept getting my name wrong, using a name I didn’t at that moment understand, day after day, and then he ‘rang me’ on a phone he’d concocted, and the whole name-play fell into this; other children, younger children, used my real name in beautiful ways (with subtlety, with care, or with smiles in their eyes); some children, younger and older, concocted names for me, and the former used these in innocent interaction and the latter used them to play a wider, more nuanced and clever, clever game (all the names tumbled and tumbled in time and rose to the surface, here and there, there and then, dipped away again for a while; all the names were laced in play).
There were countless small moments of play between myself and individual children, and I don’t know for sure if the other adults saw these treasures or, if they did, if they knew what they were seeing at all. A playworker will know or sense another playworker, but someone not of a playworking-mind will not sense the play hidden in plain sight. Children are play-minded, of course, and so they know. A younger child would greet me every day with a simple, brief and very individual movement of her hands; another of the same age would crook her finger to beckon me, subverting the adult-child dynamic to a child-adult, and I would obey, sit down, and she would tell me all her fantastic imaginings, dead-pan, of the day, every day; I told stories to others too, and for weeks afterwards, months later in some cases, small actions from those stories were relayed back to me, in passing; there was a period in which I’d developed individual salutations for individual children, and I played these over and over, sometimes in cues, sometimes in returns, but once I forgot the matching of the child and the salutation, trying everything but receiving nothing in return — the child eventually turned, smiled, winked at me playfully.
In our longer interactions, the children would often get me to hold one end of a lengthy skipping rope, the other end of which we tied to the leg of a bench. All manner of skipping variations ensued, not just on any given day but time piled on times: the place or places of skipping became richer, imbued with us, with all the children’s experimentations, with their names for ways of playing, with my names for things, with the great construct that swilled there and which was a wide and deep amalgam of us. When I stepped away from the skipping, as I sometimes did, judging that the play needed this or could withstand it, the form of the whole took on different shapes, sustained itself for a while, or dissolved. When I was in it, by the children’s request, I was as integral to it, I felt, as time. This said, the play (I remind myself here and now), was not about me, but I was in it, a part of it.
I was not a child, the children and I knew this, and they also knew that I had the adultness about me that I necessarily had because of my age, my height, my work; however, sometimes they said to me or did things around me that told me, directly or indirectly, that I was understood and trusted in ways that others of my kind just aren’t. Sometimes, and repeated over time, with time and times, it was a look they gave me, or sometimes it was a simple stuck-out tongue, a thumb to the nose and fingers waggled; sometimes, it was a sudden appearance in front of me, coming right up close to my face and shouting out their anger (not anger at me, to me: fermented by the close proximity, the unwanted attentions, or the oppressions of others). All of this makes me wonder how many adults children can say and do these things to without fear of emotional or psychological retribution. Over time, in time and with times, children know. Often, and simultaneously, they also know almost instantly. There are intuitions at play that many adults have forgotten how to use.
Once upon a time, there was a group of children who, individually and collectively, I felt were almost too subtle, sublime and exquisite in being for the majority of adults to see. To those children, all (and this probably won’t be the last I write of them), I offer here my gratitude, namaste (to some I saluted, to some it was a curtsey, some I bowed to). Our time, these times, repeated and replayed in all their flavours, fashions, fancies, were healings, I felt, then and now: what damage others might cause by their words, their actions, their demeanours, play and relating and all its interactions can go some way to mending.