Must Play Well with Others

Must Play Well with OthersI’ll never forget the fear I felt when my mother asked me to go into the pizza parlor and pick up our order.

Hardly the stuff of Saw/Exorcist/Blair Witch Project nightmares, right? As a pre-teen, my shyness made even simple tasks like picking up pizza a burden. And I love pizza more than just about anything, then and now.

I don’t want that to be the case with our children.

Our son Eli used to be guarded around strangers. He’d either cling to my leg or adopt a strange vocal tic that sounded like the kid in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Great book, but that grating voice was, well, grating for parent and new friend alike.

Eli is far more open to the unknown at the advanced age of four. When we take him to the pool, the park or even the supermarket he quickly strikes up new friendships, sometimes within minutes. He isn’t a natural, yet, but his personality is perky enough to smooth over those fumbling first moments for some inspired play time.

Last night, we took the kids to Denver’s Jazz in the Park gathering, a chance to soak in the city’s colorful denizens and, I suppose, listen to some music. Never was much for jazz, but I’m always keen on people watching. We kept the boys entertained for a while, but soon Eli was itching to meet new friends – the park is crawling with toddlers. Good thing we were prepared. We brought a soccer ball and a collapsible tunnel, the latter from a kiddie tent package which has proved invaluable in public places.

Collapsible camping tunnelEli wasn’t ready to go it alone. So the two of us spotted a little boy nearby and approached his family. It was awkward for both of us. It helped that we live in Denver, a city where folks are so darn sweet it’s almost annoying. So we walked up to their picnic blanket, brandishing our toys, and between the two of us we muttered something to the effect of, “would you like to play?”

It worked. In minutes Eli had made a new friend, got introduced to the boy’s younger brother and I retreated to our picnic blanket, happy to have made a connection for my son.

The key is to remember other parents want their sons and daughters to find new friends for play time, too. They’d much prefer to sip wine and engage in adult banter than keep their toddlers engaged. More importantly, don’t arrive empty handed. Some toys are better than others in these situations, but you can’t go wrong with a soccer ball.

Or, you could do what a plucky three year old did when we first met him at the park last night. We had barely exchanged hellos when he puffed out his chest and announced, “I can poop in the potty now!”

There’s no such thing as a bad ice breaker.

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