Wooka, wooka, wooka, wooka.
That’s the sound my helicopter made as it rose into the air above the playground, pitched left towards the grassy embankment and landed gingerly under the covering of camphor laurels. A small boy had been left behind in the centre of the concrete clearing, blissful and oblivious to my departure.
My eldest child is 3-and-a-bit. He can talk well enough to hold conversations with big kids now. He’s inquisitive enough and carefree enough to approach other kids in the playground, even if they are bigger than him and clearly don’t wish to be interrupted by a pipsqueak chiming in on their game.
Being 3, my son loves chasing. Yesterday at the park, he started chasing two boys as they rode their bikes around on the basketball court. Round and round the little wooden skate ramp they went, the two bigger boys peddling their hearts out and little bugalugs running as fast as his little legs would go, his ankles flopping and feet slapping on the ground in the way that toddlers do.
After a while, the biggest boy started calling out “hey you!” over and over, looking at my boy. His companion soon joined in.
Eventually my son started echoing, “hey you, hey you!” I stood under a tree at the edge of the court, watching to see how things would unfold. The two boys’ fathers shot hoops just a few metres away, clearly unperturbed.
A little while longer and the calls changed to “hey you, smelly pants!”
“Hey you, smelly pants!”, came my son’s reply at the top of his lungs, oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to be the receiver, not the giver, of the insults. Still, I stood under the tree and watched.
Round and round went the two boys on bikes, their little companion starting to fatigue but managing to remain in pursuit and continue the game.
A few minutes more and the boys changed their calls again. “Hey you, stupid pants!”, chanted the bigger boy. My son answered back straight away, “hey you, stupid pants!”
By this point I felt quite uneasy. This was the first time in which I had consciously stopped hovering close by in order to let my son play on his terms with whomever he chose, and he was loving every minute.
Did it matter that these words he perceived as funny and silly were meant as taunts by the bike-riding gang of two? Did he need my protection if he was oblivious and unoffended even as they pointed at him as they rode round and round? The older boys’ dads bounced their basketballs nearby, but didn’t intervene.
On the surface it was a fairly harmless game, but it raised the question of how much my supervision levels would be challenged in the coming months and years. If I didn’t want to end up just a helicopter pilot in a holding pattern, I would have to learn to balance the roles of security guard and teacher pretty quickly.
Thankfully I was off the hook for now, as it was time for the boys to go home, and my little runner was all out of puff.