Play areas in malls stress me out. Preschoolers are clumsy kamikazes in those places, throw in the inevitable elementary school kids, and it’s just a bad mix. I don’t care if everything has soft sides, I’m just waiting for some kid (my kids, namely) to go home paralyzed. Today, though, I began to think that it’s not the other kids I should worry about- maybe the other kids should be worrying about Katie.
The mall nearest us has a play area with a loony tunes theme, with a Pepe LePew slide on his arched tail. Katie was particularly attached to Pepe today. One older little girl glommed on to Katie, chasing her around, mimicking her body language, and Katie returned in kind. In middle of their play, though, Katie was on one end of Pepe, and this adorable little boy, older than she, was climbing up the other. They met in the middle and it was a moment out of the movies, where a little girl and boy meet and become friends forever.
Except Katie was not interested. She got mad at her little paramour for even being on the slide. I could see her yelling at him from across the play area. She ran to me and he followed. She wrapped her arms around my legs while Zuzu shrieked with joy on my lap, and hid her face. Little boy did not relent. He asked her if she would like to play with him. Katie yelled back, “No!” He asked her what her name was. To be polite, I answered for her and asked him his (I couldn’t hear it- but all this time, I’m thinking we are in so much trouble…).
Katie ran off. Little boy pursued. Then he tripped her or something on the other side of the play area. And here’s what gets me- when she came back to me, crying, he came, too, and apologized. What a gentleman, right? Katie rebuffed him, once again, but as he walked away, she thought he was playing peek-a-boo and this somehow won her over. He realized it, and began playing back with her. Game on.
Little boy left, and Katie found a new bff. She soon took back up on Pepe, this time as the engine master on a choo-choo train (I could see from her gestures and facial expressions that this was the game she was playing, plus it’s her favorite at home right now). She sat on front, and two older little girls were sitting in line behind her. Then, three little boys moved in. And Katie was having NONE. OF. IT.
I’m serious. She stood up for her bffs. She was off Pepe, pointing her finger and I could faintly hear her yelling at those boys that they had to get off! their! toy! It was their! train!
I’m thinking, you go, girl! But then, I realized, Oh God. My kid is the mean girl.
If you’ve gone to these play areas, you’ve seen them. They’re nasty. They terrorize other little kids. And that was my child. So I wrapped things up. I managed to cajole Katie out of the play area. She went from being the mean girl to the crying kid.
I ended up talking about this to the woman in Banana Republic who also has a three year-old on the way out: on the one hand, I’m glad she’s strong-willed. I’m glad she isn’t docile around boys, either, and I hope it carries over to her teens and adult life. But now I’m afraid that she’s also The Mean Girl. Or not- she was sticking up for her friends. But, I can tell her from personal experience- it’s going to be well into adulthood before her peers begin to appreciate that.