20 years ago this week the first episode of Friends aired (how old does that make you feel?!). The realisation led to an inevitable dinner table conversation: ‘Which friends character did you most want to be? Who do you think I am?’ (I think I’m Rachel. Husband seems unconvinced.)
It seems whatever the context or stimulus, we are desperate to define ourselves, to create pigeon-holes, to stamp great big labels on our foreheads and those of everyone around us.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of parenting, where labels are more plentiful and irritating than the queue for the baby changing in a family friendly pub. Pushy parents, attachment parents, yummy mummies (yuk!), baby carriers, helicopter parents, tiger moms and now, apparently, ‘snowplough parents‘.
Someone, somewhere, is desperate for us to define ourselves by the occasional choices we make.
But what about our children? If judging parents is taboo I may well be placing myself on the verge of exile, but what if we started to label our children?
Over 2 years of hanging out in places full off children, I have come to the conclusion you can tell everything about a child and the adult they will become simply by observing their behaviour in a public playground.
- The child who plays alone in the sandpit
Concentrated, quiet, bothering no-one, possibly even appearing to an onlooker to be a little lonely. Sure there’s a chance this solitary chap will become the class ‘weirdo’ or geek, ostracised on the edge of a cruel teenage society. But worry not, he’ll make a great comeback. His quiet perseverance when surrounded by madness means he’ll be the one curing cancer, winning a Nobel prize or leading us all on the first mass mission to Mars when Earth is no longer fit for human habitation.
- The kid who never gets off the swing
“Higher, higher, higher”, she screeches as the queue of patient pre-schoolers grows ever longer. She is a thrill-seeker and once she’s found a thrill, she’s not letting go. In 20 years time she’ll either be harassing you for sponsorship for her latest naked-bungee-skydive endeavour or bankrupting her parents while she treks around the outback.
- The bossy kid
There’s always one. Everyone’s having fun, jumping around randomly with no purpose, chasing pigeons with no hope of success, then along comes Bossy-boots and insists on instilling some kind of killjoy order. She’s a middle-manager, obsessing about whether the copier has been loaded with the right-sized staples and solving every problem she comes across with a spreadsheet and a team bonding exercise.
4. The kid who throws stones
Who knows whose genius idea it was to stop building playground with that nice soft plasticky stuff which actually cushioned you when you fell off the climbing frame, and replace it with loads of small, hard stones, but they have inadvertently created a new breed of monster. All kids are fascinated by stones – why not? Pick them up, roll them through your hands, take one home as a pet. All fair enough. You could even throw one a small distance, just to check it out. But kids have no self-restraint, and some are downright evil. Playgrounds are now populated with hoards of pint-sized people assaulting anyone who comes near them, whether they know them or not, with handfuls of small hard rocks which, unsurprisingly, bloody hurt. They charge around looking for free equipment, not to play on, but to vandalise them, damaging them forever with dents so small they are almost invisible to the human eye. But they are there. They are definitely there. Devoting their lives to a pointless and yet harmful activity, these are the marketers and advertisers of the future.
Then there are the kids who you know, already, are going to ruin the world. The kids hell bent on anarchy and ruin. The kids who just won’t stick the the rules of the playground. They are…
5. The kid who climbs up the slide
They’re selfish, pushy and unaware of anyone else’s fun. Determined to break the rules for no reason other than to prove that they can, they reign over the rest of the playground with disregard and disdain. Some are curbed by ashamed parents, running in quickly as they clamber up the steel slope and swiftly lifting them away. Meanwhile others roam free, uncontrollable, reaching the top of the slide in seconds and striding over anyone who dares to get in their way at the top, anyone who is actually using it the right way.
These kids, the slide climbers, are the investment bankers, the corrupt politicians, the tabloid journalists and paparazzi who run and ruin our society.
Parents beware! It might seem harmless, a momentary inconvenience to other children at most, but left to roam uncontrolled, their next venture to the bouncy horse could ride us all into the apocalypse.