Playing Before School Starts

EVERY morning I take my girls (8 and 10) to school, and on many mornings we get there in time to play before the bell. Play usually includes me picking up my girls and putting them on my back and/or playing tag.

This ALWAYS leads to more kids wanting to play, and I always welcome them to join in. The other kids like to play tag with me – specifically the boys because they are usually more athletic and want to try to catch me. The other girls like to be chased and have me come to them. It’s a balancing act between my fun chasing and evading, and not losing sight of my own girls and making sure I play with them too.

Many of the other kids like to play rough with me and want me to pick them up, like I do with my own kids. I usually don’t but by this time in the school year there are a few kids that I’ve seem repeatedly and I’ve built a bit of a familiarity with them, so I will, on occasion, pick them up too. What’s interesting about that kind of contact playing is that I can see in the eyes and body language of so many children that they are interested in it, but something prevents them from getting THAT close to me. I’m not complaining because I think that’s good to see the critical thinking on their part.

There are some kids who go insane when I pick them up or hold them and help them jump higher than they normally can. It’s as though they’ve never been given attention from another human before and they’re so excited that they run away from me jumping and screaming!

There is a kid who comes running up to me every morning and just stands near me, waiting for me to see him. When I see him his face breaks into smiles and then he tries to run away, which I’ve learned means “chase me.” If I do not pick him up, or at least hug his head, he follows me. However, as soon as I give him either of those he is satisfied.

Another girl sneaks up on me and violently explodes with verbal and physical excitement as she grabs my arm in the tightest of hugs! She has been a pain in the but because nothing I could do would make her behave on any level of normal, and I would avoid her. One day when I finally shook her off (because of the school bell) I hugged my daughter, then turned to leave. There she was – waiting for me STILL! I sarcastically asked, in a baby-tone, if she was waiting for a huggy-poo too. She immediately said YES! I thought, ah to hell with it, let’s see if she means it. I hugged her head – because a proper hug just wouldn’t be right – and to my surprise she just smiled as big as her face would allow, then left. Quietly too.

The next time I saw her I intercepted her over-the-top behaviour with another hug to her face and her level of excitement scaled back to only freaking out. All she wanted was some attention – specifically a hug.

The diversity is great. Some guys only want to see if I can catch them, and when I do they leave or try harder, depending. Some girls only want to watch while others want to be chased and never EVER caught. The old “permanently on ‘T’ routine.”

I am now known by most of the kids in this school as “A’s” or “B’s” Dad and I seem to have made them more popular. After the bell, and when the kids are filing into the school, I walk back to my car, and as I walk past the late kids arriving many of them will say Hi “‘A’s’ Dad!” with smiles of varying sizes on their faces. “A” mentions to me quite often that kids who do not even know her know who I am (yea, she likes the attention.)

When I left the school this morning, as I passed one of the doorways, a man with a white beard (not employed by the school) said to me, with a warm smile on his face, “Excuse me… You’re one of the good fathers.” I was out of breath at this point so I could only manage a winded thank you, with a smile, in return.

Needless to say, it’s a boat-load of fun for me! This morning we played so much tag that I couldn’t catch my breath for 15 minutes after the bell! I just sat in the car panting like a dog, fogging up my windows.

Having said all that, there is a down side to all of this. There are people who do not want me to interact with their kids. I am a big kid. I am energetic, and for many parents that it is too extreme for them. There are parents who want their kids to be calm and in control at all times. I tend to really bother these parents, but their kids gravitate towards me because I am the polar opposite of what they get on a routine basis. School is so sedate and mediocre, and to have a less energized home life is no fun.

Example: My oldest had a friend over for dinner this past weekend and while setting the table with us he commented, “This house is crazy!” He was smiling and having fun while saying too. Another comment from him to my daughter was, “Is it like this every day?” To be honest, we were having more fun than normal because it was a weekend, and routines were previously handled specifically for him to be able to visit.

So back to the people who do not like my ways. Cristy reminds me that some people will not like how I play, and she is right. Some people will get angry at me while others cannot relate to me but allow their kids to play while watching them – or more accurately, Me – closely. But I’ve noticed something interesting: Whenever I take the girls to the open gym night at the school, or to a park, or any other place where parents would take their kids for the purpose of having fun, and those kids play with us, the parents usually are much better about it all. It seems to me that whenever I we’re playing with kids in a common area, that’s not specifically designated as a fun zone, the parents that don’t like me are present. It seems to me that the fun people take their kids to fun places and don’t mind other fun people.

Comparing the negative feedback to the positive is what enables me to relax and not worry too much about this. Many parents having complimented me after seeing how I play with the kids (all of them), but I cannot recall a single instance where a parent has come up to me and said something about it. That does not mean that there has never been a complaint though. When someone isn’t happy about me they never tell me. Instead they go silent or shoot facial expressions at me. I find it amusing that an adult would be afraid to confront a happy person who is playing with a bunch of kids. I am not intimidating in the least! And if there was a threat to the kids in terms of injury or even predation, WHY WOULD YOU GO SILENT?!  I have to admit that I am a very peaceful person and I avoid conflict and confrontation, but if I thought my children were in harm’s way, I would act and it would be decisive action. That line of thinking forces me to conclude that these parents have an interpersonal issue with me and not the way the children are playing with me.

Looking at this from another angle, because I started this writing about how we play at the school in the morning, I have to pay attention to what the school has to say about it all. Look, it’s February 7th 2012 and I have been the only one who has taken my girls to school all year. This (my behaviour) is not new, it’s not sudden and it’s obvious to most of the students. At the start of the school year I told the other kids that I could not even touch them because they’re not mine and so we only played tag. Over time I decided that if the school had a problem with me then they would tell me. There are teachers patrolling the kids like shepherds herding their flock every morning. They know who I am and they have seen me out in the open every day. When a teacher asked me not to stand near the lineup(s) of kids (because it’s a fire route) I pleasantly obliged. When the teacher told me to stand in the waiting area as an alternative I asked what my alternatives were and followed the recommendations.

They know I am not a bad person. In fact, when the school needs to reach a parent for either of my kids, I am the only one they can reach. I am the only one who signs their agendas and goes through their work with them on a regular basis, and their classroom teacher has lamented to me on more than one occasion that I am the only parent they have been able to reach all year. They know I am not a bad person.

But all of that knowing of me and any reputation that I have at the school really means nothing to the other parents. Yesterday morning a teacher in the yard saw me picking up a kid that wasn’t mine and that teacher shot me with eyeball lasers. We saw each other seeing each other and I smiled at him. He didn’t do anything. Just the stare. I thought that the poop was now on it’s way to the fan and I was right. A minute or two later, as I played with another group of kids, I noticed an adult-sized person headed right towards me. Ah-ha! The poop and fan delivery service was on its way! haha. A completely different teacher in the yard came straight up to me, I assume having previously spoken to Mr. Eyeball Lasers, and very nicely asked me not to pick up other children. I politely and readily agreed. She rephrased the request and stated it again, and I did the same. I felt like she was expecting resistance from me and didn’t know what to do when there wasn’t any.

I stood still for a minute or two to demonstrate to them that they had an impact on my behaviour. Then I took off into the field to find my daughters and deliver the news. I told them that the school asked me not to do that any more. The kids in this group all said AWW in unison, but not the kind of AWW when you see a cute kitten sleeping in the palm of someone’s hand. The kind of AWW that whines disapproval (obviously). When the bell rang I immediately grabbed MY kid, flipped her up onto my back and ran to her line. Then I located my other kid, flipped her onto my back and ran to her line. This was my way of clearly demonstrating that I am now only picking up MY kids, at THEIR request. The tone of the staff on the playground was tangibly different.

I thought no more of it and went home. It was to be expected and the only strange thing about it is that it took them until February to say something to me.

The 7 minute drive home was punctuated with a phone call from the school. The principal! She sounded nice enough at the start, saying the same thing that the teacher in the yard said but added that there was in fact no problem and that no parents had at all complained. Again, I held up the pleasant tone and agreed without resistance. She rephrased it, as if I hadn’t already agreed willingly. I agreed again. I tried to talk to her as though this was a phone conversation by saying that I understand their point of view and it’s not a problem. She then said something strange: “So this means that you will not be picking up children that are not yours? You agree?” Huh? Did I not just agree with your request? Did I not just agree with your staff in the yard? I couldn’t relate to this new stance and I wanted to engage her on it. Instead I responded in kind with, “Yes, that’s correct.”

Satisfied, she ended the call.

I was struck by the huge disconnect between the events, the history and the teachers. I recognized that she was trying to put me in my place. Well maybe that’s not fair to her. Maybe, as my eldest said when I told her about the phone call, she is just used to talking to kids so that’s how she is. Good point. Maybe she talks in a condescending fashion by default, after years of being the adult in charge of children. Whatever the case may be, there was no loss nor any harm.

So I understand the school’s point of view. They face the wrath parents. They face litigation. And they have to abide the guidelines set forth by their governing body, the district school board. They’re not at liberty to operate as independents because they’re not independent.

So there it is. Months of playing with kids, having fun and enjoying my mornings has changed to playing with kids without picking them up. Big deal That’s how it went this morning and STILL a parent warmly praised me for it.

I would LOVE to hear about your experiences. Comment below!

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