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Kaptain Kapow and Free Range Socialization


We were headed to the comic book convention in downtown San Francisco.  We’d emerged onto Market Street after successfully navigating the bus, and subway with our pack: my wife, and I, our 3 year-old, dressed as Kaptain Kapow, our 5 year-old dressed as Princess Areia, and our 1 year-old, wearing the cape of SuperKid.  The hubbub of city life swirled around us.  Shoppers, workers, and the occasional derelict bustled to and fro, creating a fog of people.  The kids spread out, and propagated through it with ease and aplomb.

Young Kaptain Kappow forged ahead about 20 yards as SuperKid and I happily trundled down the sidewalk taking in the new fall storefronts.  Princess Areia, and Mom Lady were our rovers for the day, periodically moving from the front to the rear of our pack checking in on everyone.  

Looking up I noticed Kappow, confronted by one of the derelicts.  Sound wafted on the wind back down the street.  I could hear, “... find your mom and dad…”, “... they’'ll take you away…the people will take you away!”.  Kapow stood with his back to me observing his new acquaintance, leaning first a bit to the left, and then a bit to the right, trying to look around him.  Did Kapow bolt into the busy street?  Nope.  Was he scared that the situation wasn’t under control? Apparently not.  He just politely observed, taking in the new person, nodding in acknowledgement of the man’s comments while he waited for the rest of the gang to catch up.

I hung back with SuperKid while the rovers picked up the pace just a tiny bit to subtly overtake Kaptain Kapow.  As she reached our son, Mom Lady said, “Come on Kapow, let’s get to the convention.”.  He looked over his caped shoulder, broke to the right around the derelict, and headed on up the sidewalk.  

SuperKid, and I passed the homeless gentleman next.  He muttered, “Nice cape.”

When we caught up to the gang, I asked how everything had gone.  Mom Lady’s response? “Kapow was cool as a cucumber. Just a little perplexed at all the impromptu oration.”

We try to socialize the kids with everyone we encounter as we carry out our daily routines.  We'll usually stop to say hi, and introduce ourselves.  We encourage the kids to do the same. 

The kids know the owners of our convenience store.  They love going inside to say hi to them while they’re out and about with their nanny.  All of them are on a first name basis with  the woman who owns the local coffee shop.  Our youngest recently dozed off in her arms, and accompanied her as she ran the shop.  Everyone at the Farmers’ market knows the kids by name.  

We’ve practiced the same socialization theory, to a slightly lesser extent, with the homeless folks downtown.  We don’t avoid them.  They, for the most part, don’t avoid us.  When the kids do make eye contact, we apply the same rules we apply everywhere else:

They have to wave.  They have to say hello.  

If the kids don't do it on the spot, we don’t press the issue.  We do however, stop at the next intersection, to review the rules:  If you’re going to look at someone, and/or make eye contact, you have to say hi, and you have to smile.  

For the very occasional street sitter that seems not quite stable enough to be trusted: three words: “high aim steering”.  We spot them in advance, and calmly maneuver the kids around them.  Our goal is for the kids to see everyone in the neighborhood in the same light.  Does it work?  Based on Kapow’s unexpected field-test, our plan has worked out great so far!

Besides the kids living in a non-scary world that they’re confident they can cope with, there have been other fringe benefits.  The neighborhood is more fun to live in.  We have more friends, we know what’s going on around us, and we worry less about the kids ever getting lost.

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