The Flies Have A Lord?

Barnaby had spent a few hours in the house after school, playing with drums and cars and the rest of his incredible assortment of time wasters toys when he decided that he’d like to go to the deli and the to the park. The deli has a bunch of shiny plastic crap that Barnaby is drawn to, but not so much that he feels compelled to complain when I tell him he can’t have it. This time, though, he simply couldn’t leave unless I got him the six pack of table tennis balls. He seemed to feel it was the least I could do.

He walked down to the water, with me by his side, trying to herd the falling, blowing balls back to him when he couldn’t quite hold on to ALL SIX at the same time. I finally convinced him to put some in his pocket. His first idea, three in one and three in the other, was too logical and seemed to be working too well, so he tried to cram all six in his right pocket. Five would almost fit, the sixth would simply roll out and down the sidewalk. It finally got run over by a car, to Barnaby’s shrieking amusement. “THAT BALL IS FLAT!”

The fifth ball became a source of entertainment not only for Barnaby, but for the twenty or so people who stopped it with their foot, or bent down to pick it up as they walked up, because it simply wouldn’t stay in his pocket. Thug life teenagers and yuppies walking off their jogs were equal in Barnaby’s eye as willing participants in his ball roll. He would start running, legs kicking up sideways, and the #5 ball would pop out and roll backwards down the sidewalk, and each person who grabbed it and brought it back would get a giant “SHANK ZHOO!”

He said, as he often does in the middle of a sideways leg kicking run, “maybe let’s take a little rest RIGHT HERE!” and sat down on the side of the river.

Barnaby contemplates the RFK Bridge

We got up and crossed the street to the playground. Some of Barnaby’s friend were there, Hutch and Rory and Francis – and they were all playing together. But Barno didn’t quite know what was expected of him. He tried to hug Hutch, who is a foot taller and confused by this burst of affection. Rory and Francis were alternating between being monsters and being chased by monsters, and Barnaby wasn’t sure who was what.

There is no cruelty in children, but there is an animalistic feel. Your body has to move in the right way, a nod or a look or a sense of belonging, you have to know the cues to be able to mean something to other children. We know this as adults as well, but we look past it because we’ve devised much simpler silent communication – with our clothes and shoes and haircuts and electronics doing the talking.  With kids, they don’t notice the cut of your tailor, but they get when you’re part of the game and when you can’t quite catch up. Barnaby can’t catch up.

We get in the swings and he’s laughing like a maniac. We have a whole slew of swing games we play, and he instructs me through gobs of horse guffaws. “RUN AWAY AND COME BACK!” he screams, and I do just that, timing my approach with his waxing swing. This is maybe the one thing that has stayed consistent since he was six months old, but even this is gonna disappear soon. He’s already a little bit too large for these swings, and the mothers holding their 18 month olds give me the stink eye until I get him out.

He runs to the playground part, with the climbing forts and bridges and slides. There are teams of kids running around, not much older, but older enough that he can’t quite figure out what they’re doing. I hang back as far as I can, I want him to figure it out. As kids run past him, I can hear him shout, “HI! MY NAME IS BARNABY!”, but they don’t hear him. And if they do, they don’t understand him. He still speaks like a two year old. When a seven year old girl stops in front of him and he says, “Vat is yow nayim?”, she just alters her path slightly and runs on.

He runs up to me and asks if we can find a stick. Once he has one he likes, he heads back to the jungle gym. Instead of chasing the kids and running around, he goes from pole to pole, banging and listening to the sound. The flocks of children, using some kind of bird body language that I cant read and neither can Barnaby, swoop back and forth across the playground, and he just walks from support beam to support beam, listening to the metal gong noise as he bangs it with a stick. After ten minutes of this, he sits down and watches the river.

Barnaby finishes banging and drops his stick

Finally, he gets up and walks over to me. We head to the gate, he wants to throw his ping pong balls at the trees. Behind me, I hear that same gong noise, and I turn to see that three other kids have come over with sticks. They’re all banging on the supports, following Barnaby’s pattern. I call out to him, “BARNABY! Look, kiddo! These kids want to play with you!” He turns, looks at them, acknowledges the whole thing, and heads for the gate. He’s all done banging, he’s moved on.

When we get home, a half hour later, we only have three of the six balls we started out with. One of them ended up flat in the road, one in the drain, and one in Astoria pool. Barnaby lets me know that it’s okay. He explains that tomorrow, we can go back to the deli and get more.

Barnaby insists this is not a turtle, it’s a tortoise