By Pop-Ups Zan
She noticed the fallen leaves on the ground and crunched over them as we walked along. Then suddenly she stopped dead and picked one up by the stem. She studied it briefly before picking up a second by the stem with the other hand. Waving them about like some sort of nature cheerleader, she wandered around with the leaves, occasionally poking them into other objects.
She let go of the leaves and ran off to climb something. I idly picked up her leaves, and then gathered a few more in one hand. She runs up to me and looks at my hands. I am holding a bunch of leaves by the stems in one hand and collecting more with the other. She reached out to take my autumnal bouquet and I help her organise it in her tiny hand. She looked at her own hand briefly before reaching to the ground, picking up a new leaf and then carefully arranging it in her hand, adding to her little bouquet. Then buoyed by the success of the last acquisition, she grabs another one.
I started making another bunch of leaves while she was busy increasing her’s and almost didn’t notice an older gentleman walking through the park. She walked straight up to him, with her bouquet held out in front of her and handed the whole thing to him, and walked away. He looked absolutely bewildered.
She started on another bouquet a little too quickly and wasn’t very neat about it so all the stems were facing awkward to hold angles, with some falling to the ground. The gentleman looked at her, and then to me.
“I hope that made your day, sir?” I said, smiling as I approached.
“Do you know what? It kind of did!” He looked over at her as she unsuccessfully made a bouquet and the leaves fell to the ground. “She’s got no shortage of leaves here,” he said as he handed his gift back to me and continued his journey through the park.
At this point, she had stopped trying to gather more leaves. If she didn’t hold them by the stem, they kept falling out of her hand. She ran over to me and held her hands out to take the original bouquet. She points to home and wanders off. I quickly run in the opposite direction to collect her trike from the playground and she pauses on the spot to wait for me, and together we take the leaves all the way home.
It turns out on this occasion, being a playworking Auntie meant that I didn’t need to do very much at all. I didn’t need to deploy any of the usual things I have been trained to do as a playworker: no interventions, no reframing challenging behaviours. My little niece knew what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it on her little adventure. All she needed from me was to follow her lead, and that’s what I did. No words were exchanged, but it felt like she told me something important nonetheless. “I am my own person and I have my way too,” she seemed to say. I will never know for sure what those moments were all about, but I was glad that I was there, and one day I might even tell her about it.