It was a day like any other day in southwest Florida. The sky was clear and the air was heavy with humidity. The sun was just coming up; it was 7:20 a.m. I parked my car near the small brick building. There was a chain link fence in back. Inside the fence was a swing set, a slide, and one of those small plastic houses that kids play in, all standing silent, abandoned by the children who made them come alive.
There was a relaxing quiet in the air as I approached the front of the building. A sign over the door announced that this was “The Pumpkin Patch”. I knew as my hand reached out to open the door that this day would be like no other day I had ever known. It was August 24, my 57th birthday, and I was heading for “day care”.
As I entered the building, the air became cooler. I looked around and had the strangest feeling that I had just walked into a “doll house”. The room was set up as if it were several rooms; a library area; an area looked like a “testing” area for household items; an area that had 3 easels set up with some very unusual paintings displayed and an area with several very small tables and chairs. I felt like “poppa bear” as I moved around the room. The furniture was “doll house” size, the chairs so small that I just knew it would be a good day to stand.
Then I saw them. All grouped together in one area of the room; kids. They were peering at me from safe vantage points behind anything that would hide their very small bodies; and that didn’t require much. I counted six of them, as I awkwardly made my way across the room to where they were.
They were looking at me as if I were the “giant” that had come to “eat” them. But I knew better. It was evident that I was outnumbered; that these small creatures would not feel threatened by me for long. These were the “Children of the Pumpkin Patch” and I was on their “turf.” I knew somehow I had to make friends with them, or it would be a very long day.
A lady approached from an office near the door where I had come in. She introduced herself as the manager and welcomed me to “day care.” I got the “ten cent tour” and was invited to relax and to make myself at home. Remembering the size of the chairs I had seen, I was hoping she wouldn’t ask me to sit down. I thanked her for her hospitality and set out to be as comfortable as I could. I was here to observe just one child, for just one day, and I silently hoped it would be the quickest day of my life.
As I looked at the group of small creatures who, by this time, had drifted to different areas of the room, I saw no little boys. I asked the manager if any boys would be there that day and she told me that a new boy named Aaron would be there in about an hour. Aaron; the name had a nice sound to it. Yeah; Aaron will be the little boy I observe and write about today.
The first hour went by fast and I was still in one piece. Then the front door opened and there in front of me stood the smallest boy I had ever seen. He was slight of build and stood about “knee high” to a grasshopper. His complexion was pale and he had one of those haircuts that you can only get at home. He didn’t appear to be 31” tall and weigh 27 lbs as his chart indicated.
He stood there very quiet with his head held down, like he was checking to see if the janitor had done a good job cleaning the floor the night before. This was the one; Aaron was the reason I was here, and my next challenge was to convince him of that.
I began to observe Aaron from a distance. He appeared very shy and I figured it would take awhile to get next to him. I noticed that he didn’t make eye contact with the other kids or even the adults for that matter. But Aaron had an intense way of looking at everyone and everything around him from the corner of his eyes. He wasn’t missing anything. He stayed close to staff and appeared comfortable in their shadow.
Aaron was the “new kid” on the block. He and I already had something in common. He had only been coming to day care for the past two weeks. He was still trying to adjust to all that was around him. Aaron hadn’t had much practice at being a three year old either. He had just turned three about the time he started coming to day care. Aaron was a “barely three”.
Aaron didn’t interact with the other kids and didn’t feel the need to talk to anyone; child or adult. Although he appeared more comfortable with the staff than the children, when I tried to interact with him, he would shy away. It was going to take awhile for him to get used to my presence. So I put the ball in Aaron’s court and hung close by. When he was ready to play, he’d throw the ball back.
Eventually Aaron became comfortable with this new “giant” that was in his life, and we “bonded” for the rest of the day. Aaron had very little interaction with the other kids and was content to play near them, but not with them. He was persistent in any player task he was involved in, but his attention span would only last a few minutes before he was off to another adventure.
Aaron took awhile to get used to my presence, but when he was ready, we bonded. Where I went, Aaron followed. He increased his eye contact with me and would talk to me in short sentences. He was soft spoken and I really had to listen close to hear him.
Aaron engaged in “one on one” play with me. He rode a trike well, and stayed in the area where I was. He liked to go down the slide, play with a toy house and some plastic figures, which readily received “life” from Aaron. He shot some baskets and did a jigsaw puzzle, but was not adept at either skill yet. I would not describe Aaron as a loner, but rather a self-contained little boy who appeared quite content with his world.
Aaron’s table manners were good and he responded to the directions of staff in a very quiet and positive way. His appetite was good. He enjoyed “quiet time”, especially if staff was reading a story. Aaron was front row center and all eyes and ears. He did not share verbally with the group as the other children did, but remained comfortable in his world. At times, Aaron would suck his thumb and he had developed a habit of grinding his teeth. He sometimes would just nestle between my legs and enjoy the comfort of being close.
Another boy, probably 5, showed up after lunch. He had a “happy meal” from McDonalds and sat at one of the picnic tables nearby and began to eat. Aaron quietly observed the boy for a few minutes as he ate his hamburger and one by one the french fries disappeared. In a very soft spoken voice, I heard Aaron say “pig”, as he looked intensely at the boy. Then Aaron turned and began to play, never looking back at the boy.
I smiled as I began to realize how much in control this little guy was of “his world”. When play time came to an end, Aaron quietly cried in the arms of one of the staff. Nap time was evidently not part of his world. It was close to time for me to leave, but I lingered for a couple of minutes and gently rubbed Aaron’s back while he laid down for a nap.
Only a couple of minutes had passed and my hand was still resting on Aaron’s small back. He was quiet. It was time for me to go. My research day at daycare was over. I whispered a silent goodbye and headed for the door, hoping no one would see the small tear in the corner of my eye.
It had been a good day. I had survived “The Pumpkin Patch.” I was a year older and richer for having been there. But most of all, I had made a very unique friend for the day. Somehow, as I left the building, I knew this “barely three”; this quiet soft-spoken, shy little guy called Aaron was leaving with me, for he had found a “place in my heart.”
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