This gets to the soft, squishy center of a lot of things

An idle mind is a dangerous thing and unfortunately, or fortunately however you want to look at it, mine had some time on its hands recently.  I can’t tell you why or how this happened any more than I can tell you why this part of an old nursery rhyme turned playground game came jangling back into my melon but it did.  And with it came a sense of dread and loneliness and feeling of rejection I couldn’t come any closer to explaining than I could as to why I was thinking of this after all these years.

If you never sang the nursery rhyme or played the game it’s commonly called “The Farmer in the Dell” and you can learn about it here.  We played this game in my one-room schoolhouse in the country on days where the weather was too nasty to go outside to play.  Thankfully for the sake of my psyche, these were few.

You can check out how the game was played at the link above but the shortened version is the game begins with the farmer in the middle of the circle and through the verses the farmer takes a wife, then the wife takes the child and so on and so on until only the cheese stands alone at which point the whole “chosen” crowd including the rat forms a circle around the cheese, the last and only remaining one NOT chosen, and sings the verse, “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, Hi ho the derry-o, the cheese stands alone.”  Like all those kids on the playground chosen last for whatever team-game was being played that day, I hated being the “cheese.”  And who wouldn’t?

To be singled out as the least desirable person in a game sort of stinks.  We only had eight kids in our schoolhouse but even at that, to be spurned and rejected six times in a row is something I imagine would be unthinkable today.  Today it’s all about inclusion on all accounts.  If you wound up the cheese in our game you weren’t even as good as a rat!  Ouch.  The thing was I think we all felt this when we played.

We made a concerted effort, sort of a moral conscience of the group, NOT to have the same kid be the cheese all the time.  As you can imagine this took some doing.  Typically it was the older kids, perhaps those chosen first as the wife or the child, who made it a point to choose the less popular kids.  Looking out for each other’s feelings brought us together as a group even though we often argued and disagreed individually.  I believe we all recognized the need to be included without any guidance or threatened reprimands from our teacher.  We might have teased each other by choosing our best friend, who was a boy, as the wife but leaving someone as the cheese repeatedly wasn’t tolerated.  I don’t know if that would happen today and perhaps the sad part is there’s probably little chance of finding out if it would.

I’m not in education but I don’t imagine this game gets played any more.  It’s not just that it’s antiquated but it can, and did at times, become about popularity and cliques.  While there was some of that, even among eight students in K thru 6th grade, setting up this type of choosing game in a larger group could very well lead to the popular kids always choosing their friends.  Among a larger group there’s not nearly as much compelling everyone to get along.  Our little group had to do everything together at recess if we played a game.  We couldn’t split up into boys or girls or even 4th graders and 3rd graders (there was one of each, and who wants to play alone?).  Perhaps the larger question becomes one of the moral or group conscience.

Today we hear so much about kids being left out, ostracized, bullied and picked on often with tragic and sad consequences.  Perhaps our “Farmer in the Dell” days taught us something about compassion we’re missing today.  Perhaps we need to give older kids the opportunity to show young kids how to care about others.  Maybe we need to instill in our kids that sometimes things suck (like being the cheese) but they will get better and there’s another game coming up soon where some kid will make sure you’re not left standing alone at the end of the game again.  And maybe we need to give the kid who was the cheese two games ago, then got picked earlier in the last game, the opportunity to help someone else out so they’re not left alone.

Kids teaching kids without an authority figure trying to make sure everything is completely even and 100% the same for everyone.  Allowing kids the chance to exercise their compassion to protect the feelings of their peers.  Putting older kids in the position to set an example.  Teaching kids they can get through tough things, things that suck, and still be part of the group.  This former “cheese” thinks those are pretty good ideas.

Believe me, I realize how much the above dates me.  Not only in the game itself but some of the philosophical ideas about kids.  Kids are different today, I know but I still think they can be taught and I’m a believer in the compassion that exists in everyone.  I think if it got exercised regularly there’s no limit to what we might do.

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