Some days after school, I let the kids play on the playground with friends. It’s a welcome change from our usual routine of coming home, fighting over who gets in the door first, shoving food into mouths, and rushing outside where I am the coach, referee, shortstop, quarterback, or freezing cold icicle who monitors the kids in the street.
On the playground, I still shiver and freeze, but I learn something as I watch the boys. The playground is much like the wild, where male animals tangle and butt heads to decide a leader or the victor of some great territory. Like them, the boys need to assert their power, find their rank, or prove they can take the hits. Here they learn to tackle, wrestle, and fling each other around like beasts, but they do it with snaggle-toothed smiles, chocolate milk breath, and dimpled giggles.
We parents on the sidelines watch, flinch, and think, “Oh, was that jab all right?” only to see the boys dart away covered in mulch, panting and laughing, and chasing the next boy.
They are wild beasts, a species I don’t fully understand. What is the appeal of having someone throw you to the ground? What makes them beg each other to wrestle and kick the crap out of each other? I keep my eye on things, and I keep a safe distance from these wild creatures.
I do not have the wildest of sons. I trusted him alone with his newborn sister at the age of two and peeked around the corner as he simply read and talked to her. Now when the urge to wrestle strikes before his dad comes home, he begs her to take him on. But he takes whatever pummeling she gives him with giggles and smiles. He knows when to back off. He flinches when a herd of players stampedes his way during a game, but he does his best to keep up with the pack. He doesn’t deliver a wallop of a punch, but he likes the interaction.
Even as a mom whose urge is to protect, I understand boys need that craziness they call play. I’ve read a lot about boys needing to play rough. It’s good for them, even if it’s absurd to me. We parents on the playground sidelines scratch our heads, but we all come to the same conclusion: It’s what the boys seem to need.
Getting physical helps my son release his energy in a positive way. He can be physically close without being mushy. Boys just don’t hold hands or hug a lot the way girls do. He learns not to be too rough with others (though sometimes a punch in my husband’s groin goes too far). And this type of play helps him learn how to read other people: Is he making them mad or are they playing? Being around other beasts his age seems to help him learn the rules of the playground kingdom. Everyone gets to be It. They pick each other up and dust each other off. Then the chase and tackle resumes again.
I’d rather see my son do it with other consenting beasts than with his sister or me. And it sure saves me a lot of bruises.