Paper Tigers on the Playground

Picture a little girl, aged three or four, with long blonde hair and a pouting round face. Hayley’s forehead hair swoops to her right temple where it’s fixed with a tiny bow. The kind of bow you’d expect to find above poodle ears.

Hayley was already playing at the library’s Lego table when Brontë approached her. “Hi!” Brontë says. “My name is Brontë and I’m four. What’s your name? Do you wanna play?”


Brontë blinked at her before moving to the other end of the Lego table. She picked up a handful of rectangles.


I waited for Hayley’s mom to intervene.

She didn’t.

I took Brontë’s hand as we walked toward her little sister, Bridget. Bridget is two years old and feeling every inch of it. I don’t need a Bridget/Hayley collision happening where we’re supposed to be quiet.

We cross to the outside playground, where the girls run away squealing. Brontë heads to the swings as Bridget tiptoes up to a pivoting blue seat.

Toddler battleground
I notice the seat is much lower than it used to be, undoubtedly because too many children had been getting hurt. Kids sit on it then use their bodyweight to start whipping around. It gets going fast enough that flying off is inevitable.

Bidgie sits on it and starts leaning. It begins to move. She twirls in a light circle as I sit nearby, watching.

Hayley runs up. Apparently, she came outside too.


Bidgie stares at her in a slow revolve.

“GET OFF!” Hayley walks up to Bidgie, putting out both arms as she prepares to push the baby off her toy.

I jump up with a look that convinces Hayley to back away.

Bidgie turns fast and faster. My heart beats a little harder. She spins quicker and quicker until she’s nothing but a flesh-toned baby blur.

And she flies off the apparatus, smacking the ground with her head. Oh no…

I fight my instincts to rush to her aid. Kids are tougher than we think, but if they see you panic, they will panic.

No point in preemptive alarm. If they’re hurt, they’ll cry without being reminded.

Bidgie stands up without incident and walks to the neighboring ladybug car, scrambling inside. She grabs the handlebars and shakes as though she has spiders in her pants.

Seeing the open blue seat, Hayley wanders toward it.

Right as Hayley begins to sit, Bidgie shouts “NO!”

It’s an unrelated “no.” I think Bidgie’s just angry that the ladybug won’t take off, no matter how hard she shakes.

But it’s tough to say, because two-year-olds are fond of saying “no.” They like the power of refusal, the freedom of choice, the way the word rolls of their tongue. Maybe it’s just payback for having to hear it all the time.

It’s one of the quirks of being two.

Another quirk is believing that everyone is always talking to you. So when Bidgie screams “No,” Hayley freezes.

I notice it. Bidgie notices it.

Mastering psychological warfare on the playground
Hayley approaches the blue seat again. As she begins to sit, Bidgie shouts “NO!”

Hayley stops and Bidgie smiles.

Bidgie waits for Hayley to try again. Hayley looks around her before touching the blue seat with her hand.


Hayley screams, “BUT I WANT TO!” before throwing both arms above her head and running away.

It worked. Bidgie  says “no” a couple more times, curious if anything else will happen.

Then she looks toward her sister and nods.


13 thoughts on “Paper Tigers on the Playground

  1. Just the kind of post for monday blues :)) Hehe that’s quite a stare from Bidgie.
    Funny how kids learn about competition even from such a young age.
    ‘The she looks towards her sister and nods’ 😂 She’s like ‘Got your back’ 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bidgie is not an infant to be trifled with, haha 🙂 Mostly easygoing, but incredibly persistent and freakishly strong.

      Yeah, Brontë and Bridget bicker all the time, but have each others’ backs. I’m guessing that’s how it works with siblings

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliantly written. Hair like a poodle… Spiders in her pants. The world needs more Bidgies to put the finger wagging bullies in their places from an early age! Brilliant


    1. Oh yes, kids are plenty smart, just less experienced. The longer I’ve been a parent, the more I’ve realized that kids are just smaller, more straightforward adults.

      We’ve got bullies at work and on freeways and up the company chain just as much as we had them on the playground… adults just use fancier words 🙂


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