Peek-a-boo. How often have we played that game--with our own children, with grandchildren, nephews and nieces, with neighborhood children, babies that we don’t even know at the check-out line at the grocery store, babies on the bus? It may be called different things in different places, but its theme is universal and eternal.

I must have played peek-a-boo a thousand times before I ever noticed what the game was really about. It happened at a workshop, when I had just met somebody new.
We liked each other right away, found a topic of mutual interest without difficulty, and were chatting away happily. Then came a lull in the conversation--one of those pregnant pauses--when our eyes met, when we both had to notice that the other one was really there. How excruciatingly embarrassing! Luckily we were both on the same wave length. We looked, and laughed, and hid our faces, looked again, and laughed and laughed.

It was a classic game of peek-a-boo. And no wonder the game itself is a classic. It’s all about some of the most basic questions in human relationships: Are you there? Are you really there? Will you be there next time? Do you see me? Do your really see me? Are you pleased to seem? Will you be pleased to see me next time? And not only do you get a chance to ask all those important questions. You get to laugh and laugh as the answers come back--a great and wonderful string of unqualified yesses.

Ultimately, peek-a-boo is a game about noticing, about being there. It can be played successfully only when both players have their full attention to the game. This, I think, may be its greatest attraction. Any child who is playing peek-a-boo has secured another person’s undivided positive attention--one of the most scarce and valuable resources of all. No wonder children love the game.

And no wonder we adults found it such an embarrassing game to play with each other. In the course of our childhood and growing up, we’ve gotten enough no’s in response to all those questions that they often seem like pretty scary ones to ask. (I think of all the hundreds of times I’ve turned my children down-- “No, other things are more important.” “No, I don’t have time for you.” “No, I would rather not be bothered.” “No, you’ll have to manage by yourself.”) It’s not surprising that we’ve found lots of ways to avoid risking those no’s. We don’t ask. We go off by ourselves. We lower our eyes. We change the subject. We make a joke. We discover important work that needs to be done.

But peek-a-boo is a great game. I have a new appreciation of why children want to play it, and I’d like to see it played even more--with all sorts of variations for different ages. What if every child riding on a bus, every child waiting in a line got to play peek-a-boo? What if that were just the beginning? The more yeses we can get to those basic questions, and the more we can laugh in wonder and delight at all the yeses, the better off all of us will be.