Thursday, April 6, 2017

Zoe vs. Sartre; Or, Hell Is Other People, i.e., Kids Who Won't Play with You (or Maybe It's Because You're a Bossy Cheater Just Sayin')

Birthday parties and playgrounds are two of the most critical social landscapes of childhood, where friendships are made, solidified, and then destroyed in a flurry of betrayals, tears, and too much candy.
At six and a half, Zoe is getting to the age where she's more aware of social interactions. We're not all one big group of friends anymore like we were in preschool. Some kids are choosing favorites and either accidentally or on purpose leaving others out.
When one feels left out, as Zoe felt a few times this past weekend, one tends to sink into an existential funk in which the small child may wonder: Is meaningful friendship possible in the face of our mortality? Is it the playground that sucks or the playas? How long must that red ball lie unclaimed before I can take it home with me?
Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher well known for writing No Exit and Being and Nothingness, and less well known for performing at children's birthday parties, is of course an expert on bad behavior, observing all sorts of human frailty while he smoked in cafes during the workweek and on weekends performed magic tricks that ended abruptly (like life) for pint-sized party goers, and when they cried, he fashioned balloon animals for them tinged with whimsical melancholy.
After one such party---and you can't prove different---he said:
"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."
Sure, it sounds dire, but if you've ever attended a seven-year-old's bowling party you know what he was getting at.

An Existential Childhood

Sartre also said, "One lives one death, one dies one's life." Also referencing bowling.
Sartre was joy personified, or at least would seem so compared to me after this weekend, where I had to entertain a child who cried no less than five times over interpersonal drama. Four times was at the bowling birthday party, two for good reason---she got her hand caught between two bowling balls. 
The third time she cried was because, by accident, she bowled in someone else's lane. The girl using it yelled at her, and Zoe ran to me crying, saying the girl was mean for yelling at her. Cut to a few minutes later, when Zoe got upset at a kid who jumped on her and hugged her, so that it was now she who yelled at an undeserving someone.
I told her to calm down, which solicited more tears. Exemplifying what Sartre said:
"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."
For Zoe this apparently means yelling and hypocrisy.
I wasn't sure why she was taking things so hard. Just a week earlier we'd been at a party where she was playing with a little girl she just met until that little girl ran away and hid. I wasn't sure if the girl was playing hide and seek or trying to get away from Zoe. If she was hiding to get rid of her, I was angry, thinking, How dare you treat my child that way, you horrible little girl? At the same time, another part of me thought, Was my child annoying?
But aren't all kids kind of annoying? However, Zoe had shrugged it off that day. Maybe today she was just tired. 
I probably needed to set up more playdates. Which hurts me right in the introvert.
I hate meeting new people. I overthink social situations: preparing for them, while they're happening, and then afterwards I replay the things I said, making a highlight reel of my awkward.
I'd have to think on this, but in the meantime, I'd keep the social stakes low.

"Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do."
Unless you're going to the playground.
It's three by the time we get to the park the next day, but that's good because we have to leave by five so I can start dinner. Doing something that requires me to be out in the world with others is always easier if I know the end time.
When we got to the park she saw a boy she knew from school and played soccer with him. After she bossed him around for a while, never allowing him to score a point, he had to go home. Then I was her playmate till she seemed to start playing with another little boy, as wild as she was. (She doesn't seem to play well with most girls, as evidenced by the previous day's party.)
Zoe was playing a game she'd made up called Pirates and Sea Monsters, which involved lots of yelling and chasing. And she was getting increasingly handsy with the boy, and snarling in his face. Eventually he ran away to his mom.
Zoe followed and hovered at distance, waiting for him to come back. Finally she gave up. When the boy started to play again it was with another kid. Zoe watched them for a while, unsure. Then she sat down nearby with her back to them.

"Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth."
She came over to me with tears in her eyes. "He doesn't want to play with me."
"Are you sure?" 
"No one wants to play with me." 
I tried the usual things, told her I had a hard time making friends when I was little, that you couldn't be friends with everyone, finishing with: maybe she could play with them if she asked.
"But what if he says no?"
Oof. That's a tough one to hear since it was her mother's excuse for not attending parties, or leaving parties, or hanging out by the bookshelf at parties.

"If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company."
I like being alone. I need to be alone to recharge. I didn't think this was Zoe though. She's more extroverted, especially compared to how I was at that age, not to mention louder.
Thinking of the little girl who'd hid from her the previous week, I took a new tack. I told her I'd noticed she wouldn't let the boy from her class score when they were playing soccer. When he did, she said it didn't count. Then she'd kept yelling at him to go get the ball. Ordering people around and cheating probably wasn't a good way to make friends.
I let that sink in while I also plied her with restorative apple juice.

"Life begins on the other side of despair."
Or after you play guilt soccer with your child.
After finishing her juice and wiping away her tears, she turned to me and said, "I still have no one to play with," so I got up to play soccer with her, and I was not allowed to score.

Zoe: 160; Universe: 0
If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. The 5 Big Questions, from when she was a younger existential philosopher.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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