The ordinary cruelty of children
Today is gray but warm, a last, soft kiss before the slap of another Midwest winter. It was my turn to drive the kids to school this morning, and two of them are still in elementary. It starts 25 minutes later than middle school, so I parked at the curb with the two boys, waiting until the playground filled up a bit before letting them out.
The fifth graders like to arrive early, the girls standing against the building wall in tight packs, the boys waiting in a loose group until someone shows up with a football, signaling the start of a quick match on the pavement. While my nephews played with the dog in the back seat, I observed the world inside the fence.
The older boys were milling in a loose hive formation, pushing each other and kicking their backpacks around. An athletic-looking kid finally showed up with the ball and immediately another kid, sporting a sweet pair of neoprene gloves, broke from the pack and ran to the center of the playground. Close behind him was an average-looking kid in a floppy zipper hoodie. Athlete threw the ball to Neoprene in a tight spiral, right over Average’s head. Perfect catch. Athlete and Neoprene proceeded to play, acknowledging Average’s presence only by stepping around him. Average gave up after the fourth toss, melting back into the pack to watch the pros in action, guarding his pride by kicking another kid’s backpack hard as he departed center field.
Along the wall I recognized a skinny, shy girl. She was in my son’s class last year, only now he’s in middle school and she’s, I guess, not. She stood so near a group of curly haired girls in short parkas with iPods that I thought at first they were together. Skinny took one of those rubber hands on a stretchy cord out of her coat pocket and began to sling it at the bricks, where it didn’t stick at all. The Curlies moved away a little; Skinny dipped her chin and formed a secret smile across her taut face. She knew her trick hadn’t worked, hadn’t drawn the wondering attention for which she’d hoped. She slipped the hand back into her pocket and pretended to look for something in her pink-and-purple book bag.
As I unlocked my door to get in, I saw them both. A full-on game had broken out and Average was throwing a shaky pass with Athlete’s ball. Skinny was headed across the playground toward a friend, followed by a hyper little girl who was apparently even more poisonous than she. Hyper gave up when Skinny reached her friend, wandering back toward the school door to wait for the bell to ring.
Kids are so tough.
To see more of Khalif Kelly’s amazing work, visit his page on ArtNet.