As I stood in line at a fast food restaurant, a picturesque family of four walks in. Both children and the mother are wearing sky blue cotton shirts, and the father wears a faded blue button-down and khaki slacks. The two elementary school aged children are golden blond, though neither parent is.
The blond girl bursts through the glass door shouting "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!". Her cadence is like a siren, though at an even third rather than the more typical dissonant diminished fifth. She continues, at volume and while running around the open space in front of the counter, from the time I am third in line until the time that I am at the front of the line.
When I sit down, I have a view of the playscape attached to the fast food restaurant. It is enclosed in its own room, though the glass and walls between the playscape and the restaurant proper are substantially thicker than those between the building and the outside world. The children inside are muffled, but audible.
The blond girl is sent into the play pen while her younger brother sits in relative calm with the parents. As the girl walks in she almost trips over a very small boy perhaps 2/3rds of her already diminutive height. This commotion draws two more boys, one wearing a yellow shirt and one wearing an electric lime green shirt, of about the same age. After some manner of discourse, they form an ad hoc circle and jump a few times while screaming.
I was, at one point, that age. I know for a fact that I once played games of that sort in playpens just like this one. And yet, as I sit, watching, eating delicious fries, it strikes me as completely unfathomable how jumping and screaming could be thought up as entertainment, and again how it could be accepted as the consensus option. We have so many markers of our physical development, but so few of our mental changes (development is inappropriate here, as it implies improvement, and I am far from certain that my abandonment of jumping/screaming recreation is an improvement).
The playscape is one that contains a number of raised platforms that the children climb to, the smallest boy having a great deal of trouble with each step. Once they all reach a new platform, the give short jumps, with all the energy they cannot put into height being put into the loud stomp at the end, and scream for three seconds. Then they scramble up to the next platform.
They are soon out of my sight, but by the time they start coming down the slide it is clear the ad-hoc communion has disbanded.
On the other side of the extremely thick though not quite soundproof glass wall are two sets of young parents, separated from each other by an empty booth. Both are of an age that, were I to pop one out right now, I would be their peer when my hypothetical child reached the age of the children playing. The realization distresses me.
The two families are quite similar. All four parents keep an idle eye towards the play pen as the converse softly over dinner. The table nearer to me features a man with extremely boyish features and a shortened version of the Beatles bowl cut. The associated mother has very pale Scottish skin and a t-shirt with an unreadable graffiti-style logo emblazoned across the rather flat chest. The father at the farther table is a man of angles with a hawkish nose and protruding chin and would not look out of place as a cartoon villain, if cartoon villains were wont to give satisfied grins over the wreckage of chicken sandwiches. The mother seated opposite him wore a floral patterned headscarf pulled back just far enough to reveal the light brown roots of her hair and a red blouse elegantly embroidered at the seams.
The boyish father gets up and walks in the play pen, motioning towards one of the boys. The mother with the headscarf looks up and, taking a cue, taps at the glass until the other boy makes eye contact. They both come running to their respective tables, shoes in hand. I can only hear the nearest table as the mother says, "Put your shoes on", but it is clear the other table is having the same discussion, followed by the child's same refusal.
Scottish-looking mother takes a breath and stands, bending at the waist with shoe in hand. "But your toesy-woesies are all sad!" She says as she attempts to put tiny shoe on the tiny foot. A withdrawn foot leads to a withdrawn hand, and they replay the scene with a new comment about toesy-woesies.
At the farther table, red blouse mother is on one knee, shoe in hand. She snaps softly, "put your shoe on" as she presses the opening to the boy's small foot. The boy squirms back against the lean, muscular body of his father, who mutters something inaudible.
Another snap, another toesy-woesy, but after the one shoe is on, the other only takes two and three tries respectively. The families stand one after the other as if nothing at all has occured and leave through separate doors.