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My four-year-old son says his superpower is speed | Parents and parenting

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking my son to the playground. Or, rather, he’s been taking me, as it’s right beside his school and he’s taken to running straight into it with the pace of a greased pig, leaving me to chuff and bluster after him. Speed, he likes to tell me, is one of his main superpowers. He has several now, with strength and stamina close behind. It’s his speed, however, which comes in most useful here, since he knows that once he’s through its gates, I will be powerless to remove him. There will be other parents present and the social conventions of parenting among strangers mean I will be too mortified to scream after him.

I’d be annoyed if I didn’t find these trips so anthropologically compelling, and if it didn’t also give his baby sister a chance to crawl around. The surface is soft and padded, made not of that slightly spongy playground aggregate I knew growing up, but an altogether more boingy substance covered in thick, wispy fibres somewhere between artificial grass and cow’s fur. Together with the playground’s cheerily undulating topography, it gives the uncanny sense of walking over an unmade bed. It is, in short, one of the few spaces on Earth in which you could not perceive of a baby finding injury, but this is balanced out by the fact it is usually filled with children whose spatial awareness, and moral reluctance to stamping on babies’ heads, could both be termed areas for improvement.

With one eye on her, I make sure to observe her brother. In the past year, he’s developed the first sticky filaments of a social life. To watch him courting potential friends is thrilling, and occasionally painful. He has a simple process. He just asks people to be his friend. I don’t mean ‘in so many words’, I mean he literally approaches someone who looks fun and says ‘can we be friends?’. Others do the same to him in turn, and so propagates the daisy chain of companionship which prevails in the four-year-old population.

Most kids say ‘OK’ and run away, instigating an impromptu game of tag that serves as the on-boarding for this nascent friendship. Other times – rarely, but not so rarely that the spectre of several such incidents won’t haunt me until the day I die – I watch as would-be pals issue a terse ‘no’ and return to whatever they were doing beforehand. At this, he fumbles with his fingers and moves on to the next person, entirely unmoved. He is, in this sense, hardier than I, since I can barely watch such rejections without wanting to cry on his behalf.

Watching, it’s hard to tell what adults have actually gained from masking our true wants and needs with decades of ingrained repression and social performance. Would it not be better if we could all just approach anyone on the tube and ask to be their friend because they were wearing a cool hat?

I say this to parents I meet, and they laugh in agreement. Sometimes they have cool hats but, moral cowards that we are, we do not pledge to be best friends. Instead, as we watch our children do it a dozen times in as many minutes, we silently envy their greatest superpower.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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