Having a Field Day

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.

7 thoughts on “Having a Field Day

  1. Ah, field day…my dread and lack of athletic prowess echo yours! But our school used to have fun events for the non-sporting like obstacle courses, hula hoop contests, and the “dizzy lizzy” where you would run 10 circles with your head on a stick coming up vertically from the ground, then try to run a straight line to the finish.

    My all time favorite “event” was the poker chip hunt. There would be 10 kids lined up on their knees on the ground, hands behind backs. 50 yards behind them was a line. In front of them was a plate with a poker chip on it and about 6 inches of whipped cream on top of the poker chip. The goal was to find the poker chip with your mouth and be the first to make it to the finish line.

    Why was this my favorite event? First, it was hysterically entertaining to watch! Second, my last year of junior high, I got picked to compete – and won first prize! My willingness to plunge my whole face into the plate was good entertainment for others and won me praise, admiration, and a big blue ribbon!

  2. I actually fared well in the field day activities, because it required minimal brain health. On the other hand, I was very naive and a little slow in the classroom/common sense/ general knowledge of life department. For example, in about the fourth grade they made us stand up and talk about a current event. I did mine on a rape story. I had NO IDEA what a rape was, and could not understand the stunned look on my teacher’s face.

    Oh, how I wish I hadn’t remembered that horrid day.

    We all have them, though. (By the way, my kids’ field day was last Thursday too. It was brutal to watch. Brutal.)

  3. CBW, your comment made me laugh out loud as I realized that we all have different talents and gifts. It doesn’t have to be either athletics or music. It can be other stuff too! thanks for a healthy dose of perspective on the topic.

    Sorry for dredging up a painful memory, though. Have a glass of wine; you’ll feel better.

  4. Meg, who was the teacher?

    I sometimes came in 3rd or 4th in the cross country run, which I thought was pretty good, and my friend Wendy and I always did *very* well in the 3-legged-race. Otherwise, I never had too much to show for track and field day either. But I didn’t hate it. It was also brown bag lunch day, and it was a big treat to sit out on the grassy hill instead of in the caf for lunch.

  5. ugh, high school sports. my mom played EVERY sport in high school and was a Phys Ed major in college. my step dad went to pro basketball camp. so, I thought I HAD to TRY sports. I think I tried them all and sucked at THEM ALL. but the worst was softball…if the strikeouts weren’t bad enough, Mr. Shipp put me in left field and I don’t think I EVER caught a ball hit to me. they always went OVER my head so I had to run back and then try to throw it will all my might to WHOEVER! ugh. horrible memories. I still can’t throw.
    I love your blog!!!

    1. Thanks Marci! I might have a photo somewhere of both of us decked out in Greenwood’s finest softball sweatsuits… :-)

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