With the playground is a large covered area where, as would be expected on a holiday weekend, another group had gathered to grill, chill, and play. Their little ones were making good use of the playground as well, resulting in a boisterous crowd of little ones filling the area with laughter and games. As is their habit my gaggle headed straight for the slide. Grampy-T set up camp and soon there was continuous circle as the gang dared the “tickle spider”, going down the slide in various combinations of head first, feet first, face down, face up, and plain vanilla backwards. On occasion one would attempt to climb back up the slide, working hard to keep their feet in a cloud of tickle giggles. At the start of each pass each kid would claim, “Don't tickle me!” which was, of course, exactly what they wanted most.
Though mine were the only kids on the slide at first, soon others joined in. Reaching the top they joined in the chorus of “Don't tickle me” which, in the case of faces I didn't know, is exactly what happened. How could it be any other way? I didn't know these kids and had no clue which of the crowd were their parents. Yet as each one reached the bottom they gave me a look, one that clearly wanted to know why they weren't good enough to join in our fun. They got back in the line again and again, smiling at the top of the slide and joining the refrain, a little look of sadness when they reached the bottom un-tickled. It wasn't many rounds before I just couldn't do it any more. Though they couldn't get the full tickle monster treatment, I started holding their hands as they went down, laughing with them and helping them keep a good speed to the bottom. It seemed to be enough to keep the kids happy without provoking a confrontation with parents I didn't know, and who didn't know me.
Daughter Middle spends a lot more time at playgrounds than do I. She had joined us at the slide and, as the kids drifted away to other games, caught the look on my face. She sees this kind of thing all the time. Show even the slightest interest in what the little ones are doing, get involved in any way with their play, show just a hint of caring, and the other kids in the playground will flock around instantly. Yet no adult dare indulge a child's ingrained need to be part of the group. Any adult caught tickling, holding, or in any way touching a kid who isn't "theirs" will be instantly thought of as being a threat. Even helping a little one onto a swing and giving them a push or two, which one little girl asked of me several times, just seemed like a bad idea. So paranoid have we become, so saturated with the propaganda of fear, that a Grandpa playing with his own grandkids in a public park is likely to draw frowning attention unless Mom or Dad are clearly nearby. Including an unknown someone's kids in a game that involves an adult is completely forbidden.
It was a tiny reminder of how sad things can be for those who live on these shores. Kids are now “untouchables”, but they don't know that is supposed to be a good thing. To them all it means is they are not good enough to join in the play. To them, all it means, is that they are not good enough...
The generation after the generation after mine, is getting a rough start in the world.