I took the kids to Chick-fil-a tonight for dinner with the promise that they could play in the indoor playground if they ate well. The entire time we ate, we watched three pre-teen girls (I think? Is that what they look like?) behaving poorly in the play area. They were jumping on the shoe benches, climbing the structure instead of the steps, just generally being crazy. I suppose that's all well and good as long as no one else is in there, but I was worried about my pipsqueaks getting caught in the fray. Wyatt kept pointing out they shouldn't be doing those things, all the while mowing down his dinner so he could be freed to join them. I just kept telling him it wasn't his job to parent them, but that I was glad to see he recognized inappropriate behavior in there. He kept telling me what they were doing looked dangerous and I pretty much agreed, but what I was really thinking was that my kids were going to get knocked flat in the first thirty seconds and where were their parents?
The moment arrived - Wyatt finished his last nugget, his milk and enough fruit to be excused. He was off. My parting words were something along the lines of "they're bigger and faster so just do your best to stay out of their way." Not one minute later, Natalie went to join them, too. I quickly summoned Wyatt back out and asked him to please keep an eye on his sister as I told her to just play with her brother. Then I watched from the other side of the glass as they climbed up into the twisty tubes and listened for the first screams that would indicate injury; I was sure it was coming.
Imagine my surprise when they all - Wyatt, Natalie, and three pre-teen girls - emerged down the slide. At that point, a couple of other boys were in there, too (also bigger than my babies) and they'd already figured out some sort of girl vs. boy game that, apparently, was really fun. I realized the girls, who I'd been sure were going to maul my baby, were being remarkably sweet to Natalie. They gave her their full attention as she animatedly expressed something to them, cheering for her as she twirled in front of them and were making sure she was okay. Wyatt, never shy and especially not around cute girls, didn't miss a beat. He was doing cartwheels for their admiration and was delighted with their attention.
And then I was struck by the fact that I almost didn't let my kids play for fear they'd get hurt. I never imagined that they'd waltz in there and be able to join in without some sort of negative consequence. I sat in awe of my two kids, still so small and innocent in so many ways, who have all the confidence and courage in the world. They have no idea they don't 'belong' everywhere they go. I think that's true of all kids, really. When does that leave us? Was I ever really like that? Because now I walk into a room full of new people and feel nervous, unsure and like the "fake it 'til you make it" phrase was written with me in mind. I'm not sure why it surprised me, really, considering Wyatt did the same thing last weekend at a hail and farewell (he strolled right through all the adults to get his airplanes out of our cooler, which was sitting directly behind Jeff's boss, who was standing up speaking to the group. We were slightly mortified, Wyatt was unfazed.) and at school when we moved the last two winters.
I was pretty quick to judge those girls and even quicker to assume my own kids couldn't hold their own. I was wrong on both counts. I hope my kids can retain their self-assurance as life goes on; surely there will be times when I assume the worst and it's right. But, for tonight, I'm glad my kids taught me a lesson about their place in the world.