Posted by: Kate | April 18, 2009

The Coolest Kid on the Playground

Yesterday was, in the words of the now-9-year-old, awesome.  Great.  A dezillion greats.

She’s right.  It really was.

Much of the goodness came from simple things: a doctor’s appointment in which I felt heard, successful last-minute birthday shopping, dinner out with family and friends, two boxes’ worth of frog cupcakes (they’re chocolate with buttercream frosting, made by my dad’s partner… I lack adequate words to cover their awesomeness), a 4:55 p.m. call on a Friday to invite me to a second interview.  Little things, but they add up.

There was one bit of the day, though, that will live on in infamy.  Children will whisper, in hushed, awed tones, and parents will disbelieve.  Generations will pass the story to their young, as an example of which all can dream, but to which few can strive.

It happened at Emily’s school.  Through prior plotting with her teacher, we planned on delivering Krispie Treats at 10:00 in the morning, and we would stay for snacktime and then join them outside for the third grade’s recess.  Even up to the moment of our arrival, Emily was happily clueless; the teacher told her there was “an appointment” in the main office, and could she please go down and check it out?  Jacob peeked, in that completely unsubtle way that toddlers excel at, and then ran full-tilt down the hallway to hug her.  Willem and I stood back and smiled.  Her grin was ear-to-ear and beautiful.

The Treats were duly delivered, and the general noise level of the classroom skyrocketed because there was a new audience for the tired old idiosyncracies and worn-out stories.  One little boy in particular was drawn to me, talking to me about any little thing that came to mind; after a while, he mentioned that he was excited about next week’s spring break, because he was going to spend it with his mom, whom he hadn’t seen in over three months.  She lives ten miles away from him.  I don’t think the boy realizes, yet, what a heartbreaking concept that is, but I do.

Several little girls came over and introduced themselves as “Emily’s friend,” which was nice to hear.  She had received several handmade birthday cards, even one from a boy.  She’s at an age where boys are vaguely icky, but not yet embarrassingly so.

There was a period of unbelievable chaos, and somehow we all found ourselves out on the playground.  We took a lap around the walking track with Emily, and then hung back and watched her climb around the equipment, all monkeylike and agile.  Jacob was immediately drawn to a group of a dozen or so boys in the open field, who were playing something vaguely resembling soccer: they divided themselves into two sides and kicked two or three balls back and forth as hard as their third-grade legs could kick.  We worried a little, at first, waiting for Jacob’s little skull to be misshapen by a just-so trajectory, but then we realized that something amazing was going on.  The older boys, undiscussed but universally, found a way to simultaneously involve Jacob in the play and protect him.  One would stand, casuallike, in front of him when a ball was kicked his way, then another would hand over a ball for him to kick or throw as hard as he could.  He was in heaven, and all by itself it would have made for a nice moment.  Proof that inherent goodness still exists in the world.

But then came the awesomeness.  A stray ball came over to Willem, who was standing perhaps 20 feet away, chatting with me.  He leaned down, scooped up the ball, and then drop-kicked it.  Hard.

By any standards, it was an impressive kick.  At least twice as high as the school building, traversing the length of the field, straight and fast and true.  But by eight-year-old boy standards?  This was awesome.  “Do it again!  Do it again!” came the request, and Willem complied a few more times.  Each time, they were initially thrown into silent amazement, and then would cheer with more enthusiasm than the naked, painted men you see at winter-weather football games.

As we filed back into school, we could hear the gossip chain already moving: “Did you see what he did?  That ball almost went into the woods!  I bet he could kick it all the way over the school – the long way.  Emily’s dad is so cool.”

He was a god on the playground.  It was a proud moment for him, and I was proud to be associated with him.

It may be one of the last times Emily and her friends will unanimously think of one of her parents as cool, so we’ll savor it.  And we might just have to make another recess-time visit toward the end of the school year…



  1. That’s awesome.
    Working in middle and elementary schools, I am often touched by the kindnesses children show each other- the inclusion kids are helped and protected by classmates, the quirky kid is celebrated for the quirks, the less athletic are asked to join the game…I’m not sure where it makes the switch. Somewhere towards the end of middle school, I think. I’m sure for some kids it’s earlier and for some it’s later or never. It’s nice while it lasts.

  2. That is great! I wish more parents would come by at recess time, or any time at our school and just hang out, be it for a birthday or just because they love to be with their kid. I have pleanty that come by for the parties, but I wish they would just stop by and be the “cool” parent.

  3. Great day! Kids love having new adults around, especially when those adults aren’t part of the management.

    Actually, you may find that Willem is the cool parent far into middle school, as it relates to Emily’s friends. From my experience, dads are held in awe by girls for quite awhile, and moms are the “meanies.”

  4. AWESOME day!!! Happy Birthday one more time Emily!

  5. Now that sounds like a perfect birthday.

  6. That’s awesome. 🙂

    My Jacob often inserts himself into the play of the groups of 5 and 6 year old boys on the playground, and I’m consistently impressed at their willingness to include him and watch out for him. It gives me a bit of hope for humanity, or something.

  7. Very cool, Wilem. However, I suspect there was another cool parent there – the one who made and brought the treats. ((YOU)). That always makes a huge impression too!

  8. Actually, Karmyn, I also made the treats. It’s amazing what men are capable of these days.

  9. What a great story!! Little things like the boys’ behavior toward Jacob tend to restore my faith when I find it waning. Thank you! (And WTG Willem on the general awesomeness. Enjoy it while it lasts!)

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