Friday, September 18, 2009

The Refreshing Lack of Hierarchy

One of the greatest things we've witnessed down here, and so noticeably different from the States, or from Baltimore at least, is the ability for all ages of kids to play together. During school recess the other day, the boys told me that they were playing with Gunner and Maddie, who are the 5th-grade brother and 6th-grade sister of Redding's 2nd-grade friend, Cookie. I asked how recess worked. And they told me that all the kids, from 1st grade through 8th grade, have recess and lunch together. They are all allowed to eat outside and run around when they are done. And many of the kids just mingle, regardless of age or gender. (Maybe there's too much mixing: Bo seems to be prey to a small gang of 11-year-old girls who ask him for the good parts of his lunch, like his chewy granola bar, or ask him for a few pesos. He's so kind-hearted he can't say no. He told me, "You have to share. It's only nice.")

When we were up at the jardin for the Independence Day fireworks, I was struck again by the way kids interact here. By chance, many of the American families we know were gathered at the bandstand in the center of the garden. As we stood around eating vats of watermelon with chili and lime juice or cups of pomegranate seeds, the kids took off, chasing each other around the square and playing hide and seek. Of course our three were there; then Gus and Jeb, our 12- and 10-year-old Warhammer-playing friends arrived. Then Bryce and Laurel, 8-year-old twins from San Francisco, then Brianna and Tara, the 3- and 6-year-old sisters who just moved from Texas and now, after a couple of other starts, go to school with our kids at Carrusel and Naciones Unidas. And naturally the Holtby boys, Griffin and William, in Bo and Reddy's classes, and the indefatigable 3-year-old Gavin, who keeps up with the big kids better than any child I have ever seen. (He's so independent his mom had Redd babysitting him down in the park one day for an hour. Redd made 25 pesos!) All the kids played together, horsing around, heading to the ice cream truck with their dirty coins in hand, pushing up near the front to see the fireworks. It was something to marvel at--the ability to forget about gender lines and age differences, and who can play with whose friends, and who is invited to whose house, and all those other sad little truths about play time at home. There are no real play dates here. If you're in the park and other kids are there, you join them. If you don't see anyone to play with you head to the sand box and see if there's a little girl or guy digging and you sit down near them and start digging too. Or you go to Jonas' house at the corner of Aldama and Diezmo Viejo and see if he can come out on his bike, even if you're Mason and you're five and he's nine. It has been a real eye opener, so refreshing and so normal.

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