My fourth grade son’s school held its annual Field Day last Thursday. He’s a little jock – currently playing organized flag football and ice hockey – so naturally, he was very excited to spend a school day doing something other than classwork demonstrating his athletic prowess. Or actually, half a school day. Rumor has it that the principal of his school turned Field Day into “Field Half-Day” and she eliminated all the “fun” activities (they used to have lots of games that involved water). The poor thing had less than two hours of what is, for him, the funnest day of the year, and he was bitter.
But me? Had my principal similarly reduced Field Day, I would have been thrilled beyond words, because you say “Field Day,” I still want to lock myself inside a stall in the girls’ bathroom.
Way back when I was my son’s age (kids, this was when the Bicentennial two-dollar bills were reissued, giving aunts everywhere something to tuck into birthday cards), my school’s Field Day was an interminable entire school day, held during last week of school. Invariably, it was hot and humid and at least half of my very small class would ingest gnats (or have to dig ’em out of our eyes) from the swarms that surrounded our heads. We were all made to participate in the traditional track & field activities, and it was a full-on competition. No concern for damaging anyone’s self-esteem. You either won, or you didn’t. (Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”) You got a ribbon for placing, or you watched everyone else get ribbons.
I was never much of an athlete, and it was obvious even at that young age that I would be better off focusing on cultivating my other gifts. I was always among the last few kids picked when two team captains chose sides. I always got tagged first in tag. I never won races. I sucked on the monkey bars. I never could do the splits or a nice cartwheel. I just wasn’t good at sports, and I didn’t much like participating in them, either. So you can just imagine how much I loooooved Field Day.
While my overriding recollection is one of general disdain, one memory stands out as particularly scarring. I was told that I had to run a race and jump a hurdle.
Me: You mean jump, as in OVER the top of that… very tall… hurdle?
Teacher: Yes, you know – like a hurdler.
Me: Um, there’s no way I am getting over that hurdle. It’s as tall as my belly.
Teacher: Sure you can.
Me: No, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to do it.
Teacher: You have to try.
Me: I don’t want to.
Teacher: Well, you have to try!
Me: [near tears] FINE, but I know I can’t do it!
So, I ran at the hurdle, attempted something that may have vaguely resembled a hurdler’s form, and, as if in slow motion, fell over the damn thing and onto the itchy grass in a humiliated heap, the hurdle landing on top of me.
Me: [crying now!] SEE??? I TOLD YOU I COULDN’T DO IT!
I don’t know why they made me try. I’m sure they could sense my dread and apprehension. Maybe my “I can’t” didn’t sit well with them. Of course, my ego was bruised more seriously than my body. I was sure all the cute, athletic girls were laughing at my ineptitude, and the boys whose “girlfriend list” I was on had made mental notes to drop my rank below my more athletically-gifted classmates.
As an adult, I have dabbled in amateur sports, playing volleyball here and softball there. I probably don’t suck as bad as I think I do, but I just don’t find participating to be all that much fun. I much prefer individual activities, such as personal fitness or Bikram Yoga, where I can control how far I push my body and no one else is depending on me to do my part. I also enjoy being a spectator, watching truly gifted individuals push their bodies to a level I could only imagine.
I have said all along that, despite the fact that my three boys look exactly like me, the fact that they clearly all have athletic talent is proof that my husband is most definitely their father. Because there is no way they got that from me.
I’m not sure what my point is here, or how to end this. So, I’ll throw the question to both of all six of my readers. Please, leave a comment to share with me your tales of childhood humiliation, athletic or otherwise. Or, include a link to some other blog post that illustrates something similar. Don’t worry; we’re all friends here. You’ll make me feel so much better about how vividly I remember this particular sting, even 30-some years after the fact.