Yesterday Felix and I went to a crowded playground. The weather was cloudy but warm, and kids thronged the climbing equipment, waded in pools of water, and frolicked in the sprinklers. My four-year-old son took a spin around the yard and then returned to my side. “I want to play with you in the sprinklers,” he said.
“I don’t want to get wet,” I told him. “Why don’t you go play with one of the kids over there.”
“It’s ok, Daddy,” he said. “You don’t have to get wet. We can still play.”
And so we played in (or, in my case, near) the sprinklers, and then on the monkey bars, and finally Felix rested his head against me and took a snack break. All in all, we spent about an hour and a half at the playground, most of the time together except for the few stretches Felix trotted about solo. During that time he didn’t say a word to another child, nor did he express any interest in doing so.
Afterward, we met an old friend of mine for lunch. My son’s tricycle hadn’t even come to a stop when he hopped off and started talking to the guy. “My mommy fixed my training wheel bike so now it doesn’t wobble,” he said, instead of hello. “But I still don’t like riding down hills on it; it goes too fast. You know I ride a big boy bike now? I’m four.” And then he looked at me. “Right? I’m four?” He then proceeded to talk my friend’s ear off for a few minutes about how he goes to garden class now, and how he’s going to get a grilled cheese for lunch, and how soon we’re going to visit my parents for the weekend.
The kid just seems to prefer talking with grown-ups then his own peers, which causes some hesitation on his part whenever anyone asks about his friends. There are kids he holds near and dear to his heart, for sure, but they’re not bosom buddies in any sense of the word. In fact, he hardly says word one to them. Even on play dates, he often asks for me to play with him and his companions. “Let’s play hide-and-seek,” he’ll say to his friend. “My daddy can find us.” (Uh, no thanks.) Sometimes, if he wants to say something to a compadre, he tells me, and then asks me to pass the message on for him.
It’s quite a different story when we meet up with an adult, even if it’s a person he’s encountering for the first time, or doesn’t know so well. Then he’s friendly and confidant, earning the distinction of “very verbal” from most people. (In fact, he can be pretty precocious. One time a friend came over and bought him ice cream, and Felix now thinks she’s his buddy, not mine.)
Perhaps this is the result of him being an only child, or my bringing him on adults-only hang-outs from an early age, or could be just a predisposition toward talking to his rational, relatively stable, and predictable elders. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with grown-ups and often felt shy around people my own age. Sad to say: as a high schooler, the majority of my Friday nights I spent home, with my parents and their friends, eating ice cream and watching movies. That’s some crazy teenage rebellion, eh?
I think some kids just move at a slower pace socially then others, and prefer the safety of adults to the zaniness of their peers. With that in mind, I made a list of Felix’s unusual friends, not all of whom are human. Rather than kids his own age, these are the people and things he’d rather talk to.