Saturday, October 15, 2005

Playground sociology

Many worlds exist here, in Prague. It is easy to forget and become accustomed to noticing only your own small space, but then there are places where those worlds meet: the grocery store, the post office, the playground on a Saturday.

Last weekend we took Caroline over to our favorite playground, the one with the EU approved slides and swings, where the sand is reserved for children, no dogs allowed. With an excited “Hopi, hopi!” (Swing swing!) Caroline headed over to the toddler swings, herding Will with her, leaving me free to soak up the sun and people watch.

Over on the merry-go-round, three 15 year old boys raced each other round after round, until they had to stop, one pretending to shake out sand from his shoes, another with no excuses, just bent double over his knees until he could stagger to a bench. They wore clothes almost hip enough to appear in a U.S. middle school, and though their shoes looked grocery store bought and unbranded, they’d got the short sleeve skater tee over long sleeve knit look down, and their baseball caps had that carefully molded curve only dedication to the art of hat shaping (and several boring math classes) could have achieved.

Two Romany kids marched in to the playground. Both were skinny and in clothes the cool fifteen year olds would never have touched. The smaller had a bruised face, the older watched over him like the kindest of big brothers, letting him choose what to play on, helping him onto the rocking horse when he was too short to reach it. I followed their defiant progress across the yard, watching to see how they’d be received by the other kids. They settled on the slide combo fireman’s pole fort – the new toy on the play ground and the most popular. Immediately though, all the other kids cleared off. Only one child stayed behind, an eighteen month old twirling round and round the fireman’s pole, oblivious to ostracism and to the older boy above, tapping his foot, impatient to claim the pole and its domain for his family. Dizzy, the baby finally let go to stagger face first into the side of the slide. His mother came then, to pick him up and comfort his cries and the Romany boy told her the baby had hit his nose and how. Somehow, this contact broke the ice, and the mother stayed and chatted with the boy until he walked over to the sand box and began to play with his younger brother again, pouring sand from bucket to bucket with the left behind plastic toys scattered across the yard.

Later, more expat families arrived, just as the prudent and early rising Czechs started packing up to go home for lunch. We waited a while longer, until the last bell for noon had rung, then talked a reluctant C into leaving as well and headed back home for our own Saturday lunch.

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