of lines and sandbox etiquette

I’ve come to the realization that my kids are never going to be the kind of kids who spontaneously play with strangers.

We’ve been to a bunch of public play areas in the past week, and while my kids will sometimes play with each other, they invariably respond to offers to play from strange children with bafflement and silence. A few days ago, we were at a place with a big (fake) grocery store inside. On several occasions, one little boy there tried to get the Potato to engage with him in a game of pretend bakery, and the Potato just stared at him until he walked away.

The Bee is less likely, at this point, to just walk away from a strange kid. She will, when asked to play, say no. But she very rarely is willing to engage in imaginary games with kids she’s never met before.

It makes me a little sad to see this, because it always makes me wonder why, if these kids are having fun, my kids aren’t willing to join in. I know that part of it, for the Potato, is that he’s always watching his sister to see what she’s going to do–and copying her every move (that is, when he’s not thwarting it). I know that, for the Bee, her own imagination is a compelling place, and she’s sometimes loathe to go to a less-successful game of pretend.

But I also think it has something to do with me and landisdad, and the way that we interact with other adults in public. My mom is one of those people who will engage in conversation with anyone—the supermarket cashier, the postal clerk, other people in a line that’s too long—and I have so many memories (both childhood and adult) of wincing and thinking, “now why on earth is she telling him that?”

If I’m in a line, and someone tries to talk to me, I’m always doing the “look through you as if you’re a window*” thing, especially if what they’re doing is complaining about the service at the particular establishment we’re frequenting. I thought of this comparison recently, when the kids and I were in line at the post office, and a guy tried to strike up a conversation with me about a) his surprise that there were lines at the post office after Christmas was over and b) his conviction that every other post office except the one we were in was not crowded at the moment.

I kind of muttered something at him, and looked at the kids (who were, handily for me, climbing on something they weren’t supposed to, thus giving me an excuse to stop talking to him and start talking to them). He moved on to another victim (the woman in front), and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I did wonder–do my kids think anyone who talks to them in public is crazy, even if it’s another kid, the way that I thought my mom was crazy for talking to complete strangers in public?

*apologies to Marisha Pessi


December 29, 2007. growing up.


  1. chichimama replied:

    I ignore strangers and my kids will play with anyone they meet. I think it is probably more a function of personality than anything you have done :-).

  2. penguinunearthed replied:

    I have one of each child, so I’m not sure how that goes with the parental example. Except possibly that Mr Penguin is one of those who will talk to anyone, and I tend to try not to met their eyes (although I’m getting slightly more likely to respond to conversation as I get less shy as I get older).

    At the beach today we both commented on Hungry Boy who as soon as he got there, found a boy his own age and started building sandcastles with him while Chatterboy found a spot on the sand of his own and built his own earthworks.

    I’m with chichimama. I think it’s a personality thing.

  3. jo(e) replied:

    I was painfully shy as a kid — never in a million years would I go up and talk to another child on a playground, even one that I knew from school. And yet as an adult, I am an extremely extroverted person who talks to everyone everywhere and makes friends easily.

    My kids were all shy when they were young — and I just expected them to be that way, I guess, because that’s how I was. But my older two (both in college now) are not particularly shy as adults, and are in fact, pretty confident and poised.

  4. MommyWithAttitude replied:

    My mother is embarrassing this way too, and I do not ever chat up strangers unless it’s a social occasion (like I’m at a party or work or something where I’m expected to visit with people). Maybe we are the way we are from the embarrassment growing up?

  5. Comfort Addict replied:

    Boy, this strikes home. My mother was always ready to talk with strangers. I, meanwhile, wanted to crawl into a hole. I didn’t feel comfortable opening up to people until I knew them better. The other thing that strikes me is that I was an imaginative, somewhat solitary person. Perhaps the Bee and Tater are similar; they may not want to play but oh the plays they’ll write!

  6. jackieregales replied:

    I turned out somewhat like jo(e)– I always winced and tried to disappear when my mother chatted merrily with the other people in the checkout line, but now I do the same thing. I was always very shy as a kid unless it was one of my good buddies– certainly never wanted to talk to the kids in Little League or on the playground. I watch my girls on the playground when I do lunch duty and they are the same– even with kids in their class, they are reluctant to walk up and initiate a game. I worry like you do, but try to remember that they will find their own way.

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