This morning I had the privilege of spending a few hours with a three year at a McDonalds play area. We were waiting for her mother to finish the immigration check-in down the road. When her mother came out the house earlier this morning and I saw that she had a little one with her, I remembered the last time I accompanied a father and son to a check-in at the same office. I had to spend five hours with the boy who was not allowed in with his father. This time I thought, “Well, maybe she knows something I don’t.”
She didn’t. We had a tense moment on the sidewalk after she came right back out of the office where she had been told that her daughter couldn’t come in. Should we drive 45 minutes back to her house to leave her daughter off? The little girl was not so sure about staying with an old, strange gringo. She hid behind her mother’s leg, until I mentioned that we could go to McDonalds. Then, she let her mother put her in the child seat in the back and off we went.
By the end of the morning I was calling her La Jefa, the boss lady. As soon as we walked into McDonalds, she found a table she liked, sat herself down, and told me what she wanted to eat. After I got her Happy Meal, we moved over to the play area on the other side of the restaurant. She spent the next two hours climbing, sliding, playing on the video consoles along the wall, insisting that I sit on a chair next to her as she did. More and more children came. She enjoyed their company even if they didn’t understand what she was saying.
There was a Spider Man spinoff toy in her Happy Meal. A blank, black plastic figure with two small pages of stickers to give it features (eyes, ears, nose, clothes, glasses, etc.). We did that. Then she started putting stickers on the Minnie Mouse figure she had brought with her. Then, later, when she was starting to get tired and bored, she decided that the stickers would look good on me. Hence the picture above.
Luckily her mother called to say she was ready to go just after we had narrowly avoided a total meltdown. I could see her eyes were getting tired and wasn’t sure how much longer she was going to last.
I’m glad that I had the chance to spend time watching this three year old play, and even to join in her games a little. I often get depressed at Christmas. This year the current world situation has weighed on me heavily. The picture below says it all.
Playing with this refugee child this morning gave me comfort, in the original sense of that word: with strength. She reminded me of the story of the samadhi of play that I posted before. For children play is serious business. The serious business of becoming oneself and learning the world and other people by having fun, even with strangers in a strange place.