Horse trading

(This is the second post about Rose.  The first is here.)

Rose has been digging out the rocks again, some from the hill and some from the sandpit.  One day, though, she brought me over and showed me a small plastic horse that she had found.

“I have a little horse at home,” she said.  “But I like this one better.”

“Uh huh,” I said in a non-committal tone.  There was a pause, when she realized I wasn’t going to say she could take it home.

Two weeks later, she brought me to the horse again.

“I have another horse at home,” she said.  “And I like this one better.  But mine is bigger, and it has pink on it and some people like pink.  There aren’t any pink animals here.”  She turned the brown plastic horse over and over in her hands, and pointed to the place where one ear was scraped down to the white.  “I can fix this at home,” she said.  “I have a Sharpie that’s the right color.  I’ve done this before.  My Daddy helps me.”

“Mmm.” I said.  She looked up, looked me right in the eye.

“Can I bring my horse and trade it for this one?”

“Yes,” I said.  Who could say no to such a thorough and impressive pitch as that?  She’d carefully shown how this trade would benefit her, the other children who like pink, and even the horse itself.

Soon she had another thing to do, apart from collecting rocks.  Rose spent whole days collecting the animals (which had nearly all disappeared to points unmapped by mere adults).  She washed them in a plastic bucket I filled in the adult’s bathroom, and explained to me that other children might like to see the animals so clean.  She wondered if her animals from home were happier here, where “they have lots of other guys (meaning, animals) to play with, but they also get left in the sun a lot…”

One day another girl saw her splashing and brushing them clean, and asked what she was doing.  They started washing the animals together and organizing them.  I moved a short distance to what felt like the frame’s edge, and when they ran low on animals I quickly gathered up others and dropped them in a heap nearby.  Rose didn’t even look up, saying only “oh look, here are some more”.  I felt that flash of playworker’s pride, where a lightness of touch is more rewarding than being thanked.

But that friend went away, and Rose was confused.  “I don’t know where that girl, that girl we were playing with, went.  She took some animals to the sandpit, but then she didn’t come back”.  Soon, Rose’s class was the only group out at recess.  Her class is mostly boys and very physical.  They were spinning on roller boards and flinging each other around using pool noodles.  She looked intrigued, but a little alarmed by what they were doing.  I stood up, and said I was going to take a look and see what was happening.

“I’m going to follow you around,” she said.  I said that was okay.

Gabriel called me over, asking me to pull him around.  I did, and Rose stayed right beside me as we spun around the hardtop.  I asked her for help, and then offered to hold her cup of rocks while she pulled.  There was a moment when she looked at it, then at me, and set the Dixie cup into my hand.  I put it down on a table nearby, and turned back to see Rose pulling Gabriel around and grinning hugely.  I smiled back, and they flew around the hardtop in big busy circuits.  Gabriel shouted direction, asking to be bumped into his friends, demanding to go faster.

Their teacher was so pleased that she kept them out longer, looking at Rose and then at me with a look of shock and joy.  With extra time, the play developed further – another child took a traffic cone from the recess materials and propped it up on a tire, announcing “the first annual teachers-pulling children scooter board tournameeeeeeent”.

The teacher and Rose and I pulled the others around, bumping them together and everyone laughing.  We took turned pulling each other through a shallow lake, where the plastic tub that had been an animal bath spilled over.  Rose’s cheeks turned bright red and she stopped looking for me in the crowd.  There was no time, because the other children kept shouting, “Rose, Rose, ROSE!  Pull meeeeeee.”

When they eventually went inside, their teacher laughed and said “we’re doing science now, and that’s kind of perfect because it’s motion.  Let’s go get some water first!”  Rose ran inside without looking back.  I felt so pleased by what I’d witnessed, so filled up with Rose’s reflected happiness, that it wasn’t until I’d finished putting away the noodles, scooterboards and animals that I went back to the table.  There I found a small paper Dixie cup of pebbles.  Her cup of rocks, forgotten.

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