Kalea, in her tiny white shoes, got to the playground first. I heard her squeals before I saw her feet. Then, in three double-footed leaps, she bounded into view, brown eyes wide with the spark of mischief. Over her head (with both hands) she held a green fish made from construction paper.
She sprinted past, carrying her fish as if it could swim. In seconds, three boys fell in behind her. The journey of a single paper fish grew to a procession of many. Kalea guided her green friend between shrubs, behind a dented door, in and out of the girls’ restroom, up and down the slide. The line of boys trailing behind her piercing giggles (and her clever fish) grew.
Lucas, a fierce and hefty second grader, cut her off as she headed toward far stairs. He could not have pursued her further had she made it that far so he did the next best thing by blocking her way. His heavy breathing and red cheeks spoke to his commitment to the pursuit. Catch her now or drop out of the chase all together.
Then, I heard her laugh at him and at the joke in all of it – a parade of ten minutes ending in a capture that revealed nothing more than a fish made of paper, eyes and fins drawn in crude red crayon by an unsteady six-year old hand. Lucas growled and she skipped away once again, fish held high.
Today a six year old girl brought home this point! You follow a leader because a leader shows up. You follow because you can or because it saves you from having to devise your own plan. You yawn when she yawns or duck when she says ‘hey’. Curiosity is a hook that, from the impulse of a single fish, can snag a school of thousands.
Behind Kalea’s long black curls, boys chased. They ran along asphalt paths, up and down steps, past a game called kick-back – one that they preferred – and past their classmates whose jaws dropped. Short and precious recess time slipped even as their friends shouted ‘what the heck.’ But the boys followed as if they had forgotten the utility of a word like ‘why’.
May the air that hangs above a playground be a milky mist within which thoughts and dreams merge, solid with the surreal. Well meaning and self respecting boys may find themselves pulled along with the tiniest hook or the most humble ruse. They can awaken or lose their way by the same means.
After the fish journey ended, Kalea approached me, holding her creation below my nose. Now, for the first time, I could see her her work up close. Rough and torn, approximating a fish body and scribbled upon. Fins and round eyes? Who could could tell for sure?
She bubbled up in laughter, delighted that so many followers came along, each one emptied of reason – perfect players in her circular swim. She makes me think of our perpetual paddle onward after the fish in front and our reluctance to look back to the fortunes left in our wake. The giggling ones out front would remind us of such, even when they forget to tell us anything else.