Monday afternoon was mildly busy at our neighborhood indoor play area, not chaotic, but noisy and full of 2-3 year olds darting about. Simon spent a good amount of time at the train table, as he typically does, and I sat, rocking, spacing out, until a couple of the younger boys ended up near the train table and had a few loud, tense moments. I couldn’t see the table from where I was sitting, or I probably would have stayed put, but knowing Simon’s difficulty with noise and kids, I headed over to be sure he didn’t bean someone with a train. One boy dressed as batman kept snatching trains from the other little one, who would proceed to wail until Batman handed it back, at which point he instructed the aggrieved party to say “thank you Batman.” Simon kept a wary eye on them and kept moving his trains around the tracks until Batman moved on and took a train from Simon.
He froze. He didn’t say anything or move for a moment, and I froze too, waiting to see if he would hit, grab, scream, or turn away, letting Batman have the train. He just held his hand out, and Batman obliging handed him the train back. “Thank you.” Simon told him, and the other boy corrected him, saying “Say thank you BATMAN. You have to say thank you Batman.” Simon, not being one for pretending, costumes, or superheroes, paused with a pained look, then said “thank you” again. “NO, say thank you Batman!” Batman insisted. He was getting louder and closer to Simon’s body, so I stepped in explained to Simon what the little boy wanted. He did it, but he didn’t like it.
We moved around, playing in the quiet play room, the big kid room, and eventually back to the train table. There were several kids there, and he didn’t like trying to play around them. Simon stood near the table, trying to decide whether to stick it out or find another place to play, when Batman ran up. “You’re a superhero too!” He shouted. Simon’s eyes got bigger and his body stiffened. “We have to save people. Let’s go save people!” He yelled, inches from Simon’s face, and – terror of terrors for my son – pulled on his arm.
Simon sobbed. Not a meltdown sort of scream or yell, not a shout or a whine that are typical of him. He really, truly cried. I held my arms out and he ran over to me. I think he might have said “he hurt me” as he smashed his face into my shoulder, but it was too muffled to be sure. He stayed there for a long time, holding tightly to my body and snotting my sleeve. After some time he calmed down and went back to the empty big kid room to play, and spent the rest of the day asking why the boy pretended to be Batman, how it wasn’t fun for him, and it wasn’t fun to kids or grownups.