Yesterday, I took Kara to the bounce house again. I’m not sure there exists an expression of joy quite as complete as that of Kara when she runs across the floor at breakneck speed, climbs into the house of her choice, and starts jumping.
We hadn’t been there long when two other, older kids—siblings, I think—joined us. Almost immediately, Kara started following them around, as she usually does. It’s been a pretty effective method of earning friends in the past. They didn’t seem quite as interested in playing with her, whether because she was too young or because they had each other, but they didn’t seem to mind her tagging along.
They’d all been playing together for a while when I saw Kara dart around the corner and squat down by one of the arcade machines. She saw me looking at her and happily exclaimed, “I’m playing hide-and-seek!”
An unexpected maelstrom of emotions hit me then. My heart swelled to see her so happy, enjoying herself to the utmost, learning to play games with rules and interact with people all by herself, without me as a buffer or interpreter. But my heart simultaneously broke with the realization that, with that joy of learning to interact with others comes the possibility for a world of hurt she’s never known before: exclusion, rejection. Not necessarily in that precise instance, although I honestly wasn’t sure the other kids knew that Kara thought she was playing. But for the rest of her life, now, there will come times when she will be hurt by her peers, and my heart is already bracing to break on those days.
Fortunately, yesterday was not that day. Yesterday was the day for three hours of nonstop bouncy fun, playing with other kids without Mommy hanging around. Yesterday, those blue eyes were full of joy and mischief.