Tales of a Playground Loner


“What do you do at recess?” I asked.

The first grader rambled off a list of activities and games that seemed rather extensive for a handful of twenty minute increments, but apparently recess is his day and he seizes it accordingly.

“Nothing,” said the 9-year-old without a hint of melancholy. It was just an answer, matter-of-fact, and heartbreakingly honest.

“You must do something,” I said.

“Yesterday I looked for N—, and I finally found him and some other kids in the far restroom. They were hiding behind the trashcan and playing on their phones.”

“What did you do?”

“They were being sneaky, we aren’t supposed to have phones, so I left.”

“Good. What about your other friends?” I asked, listing each of them one by one.

“He always plays handball,” he said. “He always plays…” and he responded to each name with an activity that didn’t interest him.

“It seems to me,” I offered, “and this is just a suggestion, but perhaps you should spend your time doing things you like rather than looking for other people. Go to the thing you enjoy, or make your own game to play. You have friends everywhere.”

“It’s too hot,” he replied, which was true. The first full week of school had been the hottest of the year, and the idea of playing anything outside was not very appealing.

“Well, it’s just a suggestion.”

“I got tired of looking around, so I lay beneath the big shade tree.”

“You lay there?” I asked. “Doing what?”

“Resting,” he said, “and thinking. Then S— sat next to me and read his book.”

“Is S— a nice kid? Do you play with him?”

“He’s nice, but I don’t play with him very often.”

We were all quiet for a spell, each of us looking through the direction of our choosing.

“Did you know that there is a door at the bottom of the big shade tree?” he asked. His brother perked up.

“It’s not a real door,” he continued, apparently concerned that we were too intrigued. “It looks like a real door, but it is small.”

“Did you open it?” asked his brother.

“Even if it was a real door I wouldn’t know how to open it. I showed it to S—,” he said, and then he looked back toward that faraway place.

“What do you think lives there?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’m more curious about where it goes.”

“Any ideas?” I asked.

“I suppose,” he said, “that it could go just about anywhere.”

And then I stopped worrying about how he spends his recess.


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