Do you remember kindergarten? Remember when naps used to be a regularly scheduled part of the day? Remember when snack time was carefully placed “ants on a log” instead of a granola bar you hastily scarfed under your desk? Can you still smell (or taste, for some of us) that fresh Play-Doh? It’s like it was yesterday.
Then there was recess–ah, recess. Fifteen minutes of fresh air, sunshine and sand in your underpants. It was closely supervised freedom, but it was freedom nonetheless. And in that short span of unstructured time you got to see who your classmates really were when they weren’t being told what to do. Little did you know that it was your destiny to be surrounded by these people for the rest of your life. Maybe the names and faces would change. But you’d see them all through elementary school, high school, and college. You would see them in the boardroom, the gym, the grocery store. Because the dynamic that emerged during those 15 minutes a day on the playground was fixed and finite, and understanding those playground archetypes can help shed some light on the whole messy business of human interaction.
#1: The Bully. He’s the one who kisses up to the teachers and then turns around and threatens us with toenail extraction if we don’t hand over our lunch money. This kid grows up to be a human bulldozer, loud and abrasive, a constant barrage of interruptions. He’s made an art out of both purposefully and unwittingly stepping on toes. People are afraid of him but love making fun of him behind his back.
#2: The Diva. She flirts with the boys, wears lipstick before she’s five, and loves to wail at the top of her lungs whenever she so much as bumps her elbow. She was the star of her own reality TV show long before there was reality TV. Every minor event of her life is major drama, and she thrives under the delusion that the world is utterly and completely about her. She devotes her life to making her husband, her kids, her job, and her Tweets proclaim her fabulousness to the world. And trying really, really hard not to look old.
#3: The Control Freak. Her favorite game is always “Mother May I?” and her favorite response is always “No, you may not.” She takes great pleasure in constantly repeating the teacher’s orders in her favorite dictatorial tone, and she takes even greater pleasure in tattling on you when you stick out your tongue in response. She makes it clear that this is her world, and you are all her puppets. If she doesn’t suffer a complete nervous breakdown, this person eventually becomes head of a very small organization, like “Basketweavers of North Central Fremont County,” following Julius Caesar’s advice that it’s better to be first among a group of nobodies than second anywhere else.
#4: The Hyperactive One. Poor kid. His “Stoplight Behavior Card” is always flipped to red, which means that he is always getting minutes shaved off of recess, which he so badly needs. For the five or so minutes he’s on the playground, he’s a little devil incarnate. His wild behavior gets him more time off recess the next day. This kid either becomes CEO of his own-brilliant-start-up-company, or he discovers video games and spends the next 38 years trying to beat his own high scores in Call of Duty.
#5: The Mega-Nerd. This kid moved beyond Dr. Seuss when he was two and a half, and he finds the Bernstein Bears offensively juvenile. He usually plays a stringed instrument for three hours a day, and his parents are already taking him to visit prospective colleges over the summer break. If he also possesses motivation and follow-through alongside those formidable brains of his, he’ll go far. Otherwise, he will take a mid-level job at an insurance company and use his mental prowess for parlor tricks at cocktail parties.
There’s nowhere we can hide from the playground dynamic. But we can find what’s lovable and humorous about our sandbox companions and acknowledge the fact that, like it or not, there’s a little bit of the kindergartener in all of us.