Playground dynamics: Earlier this week, I went out to a nearby basketball court with my 8- and 5-year-old nephews. With the three of us, it was mainly GOOFball, lots of taking turns at mostly wayward, awkward tosses and subsequent fetching of the ball from the bordering street. Also lots of grumping by the 5-year-old if we didn't give him the ball an equal number of times.
Then a friend of the 8-year-old's from school showed up. He didn't speak to anyone, just nodded and smiled and jumped in the game. That was my cue to go sit down and let the boys play. It was apparent that the neighbor-kid knew what he was doing (he could dribble and actually shoot accurately), so it naturally turned into him versus my two nephews. The 5-year-old nephew at this point was still in the game. He could chase after a loose ball and get it to his older brother, at least, even though the two older boys were the dominant ones.
But then... a towering hulk of a figure showed up. OK, not that towering. But kind of. It was another neighbor-kid who was, however, about 10 years old and thus more tall and bulky and coordinated than any of the squirts already out there. Like the earlier kid, he just kind of nodded at everyone else and grabbed the ball and started playing. Without any verbal communication that I could hear, the teams readjusted accordingly: It was now the Big Guy versus my 8-year-old nephew and the other 8-year-old. This game was suddenly a lot more physical and "serious" -- lots of dribbling, stealing the ball, bumping, actual rebounding. My 5-year-old nephew immediately saw that he was out of his element with the Big Boys and, after hanging back on the court for a few minutes with a sad, frustrated face, quietly left and came over to where I was sitting with Oma. (Oma then took him to the field to kick around the soccer ball we'd also brought. Your Oma's always going to be nice to you.)
The Big Boys played on, the Biggest Boy pretty much out-hustling and physically dominating the other two. (Soon my nephew, the less aggressive of the two 8-year-olds, wasn't looking too happy either, especially when his teammate started to mildly chastise him for not going after the ball more aggressively. Soon after, his mother/my sis-in-law came to pick the nephews up. I wonder how long he would have lasted otherwise.)
For me, it was interesting to see how my nephews' personalities and behavior adjusted during the course of the 45 minutes or so, ranging from the initial permissive female environment of "our aunt is playing basketball with us" -- where they could show off and/or whine -- to, ultimately, the much tougher, straightforward all-male environment where they knew, instinctively, to "put up or shut up." Baby males interacting. It was fascinating.