Gym class was the worst.
Seventh grade gym class was the worst.
The heat. The clothes. The coach’s shorts.
Our locker room was concrete blocks, painted–no–slimed is a better word, a pale and institutional mucous pea green. So shiny.
I hated it. I can’t think of a strong enough word, so I’ll settle for hate, but I mean, I hated it. I dreaded it. It became nearly a phobia. Maybe a full-on phobia.
I was never a great runner as a teen. I discovered later that I had a mild case of asthma. It would have been nice to know back then, why I always came in last, why I couldn’t breathe. It would have been nice to be able to tell the coaches, with their barely restrained eye rolls, as they clutched their stopwatches and waved the stragglers in.
At home we played some mean badminton on the weekends. But softball, football, volleyball, basketball? Ummmm, no. Never.
And it didn’t help that I went almost my whole seventh grade year without glasses. Even though my prescription is in the -5 category.
I did fine in my classes, I just couldn’t see a softball coming to save my life. At least not until it was close enough to hit me. Nothing like throwing a softball at a blind kid and telling them to run. “Come on, kid! Catch it!”
I spent that six-week-unit out in left field.
It didn’t help that I had gone to a friend’s house the summer before, and a bunch of kids there thought it would be fun to play softball.
I have learned that some things are not fun for me.
Softball is one of them. Also Starbucks at 6 am. I don’t get it. Not fun.
They got a game of softball together in the front yard. And I went out to left field. My destiny.
But my friend forgot to tell me that her dad had strung up a single strand of electric barbed wire that was about knee-high on a twelve-year-old. He put it there to keep the cows out of their yard. I grew up in Arkansas and, hot wire, it’s a thing. But I lived in town–no cows, no barbed wire. I didn’t see it.
When the ball came my way, I decided I’d actually try to play. Unlike gym class where I usually wandered off to the bushes in the middle of an inning.
I took off running, stretched up, arms out, glove open like a cradle. I was going to catch it, one more step, and I would be right under it. The kids were shouting. I thought they were cheering me on.
I connected with the barbed wire, and those electric barbs sunk deep in my knee. And on a hot wire, I was stuck there a second, shocked and vibrating.
When I finally pulled back and broke the circuit, I was done. Just done. The little white ball rolled innocently to a dip in the pasture. A cow gazed at me, chewing, and looked away.
I heard my friend running behind me, “I was trying to tell you!! So sorry! I thought you would see it!”
Well, I could see it now, thanks, but just barely. One string of wire against a green and brown lawn doesn’t exactly stand out.
I was over it. I completely ignored her. I dropped the glove on the ground and started walking to the house. Forget softball. Forever.
Blood streamed down my leg. I wasn’t even embarrassed. I was just done.
I went into the house. I probably should have had stitches, but I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t show my mom. I stuck a bunch of bandaids on my knee and never looked back.
After that, I hated anything to do with Phys. Ed. even more. As if.
I did the least activity I could and found all kinds of excuses to sit out. I slow counted my crunches and my cotton pickers. I faked sicknesses. I hung back. I made it through with a B grade, some coach’s mercy. And I still had to take two more years of gym class. I limped through it and was never more relieved than when that last credit was done.
Fast forward a few years, and my daughter asked me if she could play softball. I said yes. She had a friend on the team. They giggled and wore matching shirts. They liked meeting each other at the softball field and getting juice boxes after the games.
The first time I visited the field, the wind blew and shook the chain link fence. The rattle of the metal was Pavlov’s bell, in a bad softball field kind of way. I broke out in a sweat, and a mild panic rose up in me.
Shame is an awful feeling.
It takes everything. Freedom, joy, delight.
When that fence rattled, it took me back to all those years of being picked last, softballs flying toward me that I could not see. I hated taking my daughter to those games. I could barely watch, and the rattling of that fence rattled me. I stood outside the group of moms, trying to focus on my daughter, sweating, and counting the minutes til the game would end.
One afternoon, I stood and listened to the fence jangle, metal rings on metal rings in the wind, and I watched my daughter play. She was the sweetest thing, eight years old, all unicorns and cupcakes. Her smile was so big I could see her teeth from the sidelines. She was having so much fun. Out in left field.
The other kids were tearing it up. Hitting the ball hard, running for dear life, sweating, red faced, focused.
And all the while, my daughter and her friend were lying down on the ground, looking at the sky. Making dirt angels. Picking daisies.
No pressure. No shame.
And something fell away from me, that fast.
My heart reconditioned in one soft and sunshiny moment. And that chain link fence suddenly sounded like a song.
It has happened to me over and over again, walking through an old ugly thing in a new way with my kids. Their joy heals me. Everything is reframed. New memories push the old ones away.
What a gift.
Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Ps127:3