Monday, November 05, 2012

When Kids Are Your Teachers


When I was in school, the only subject I hated as much as math, which I couldn't seem to master no how hard I tried, was PE.  Oh sure there were some parts of PE that I partly enjoyed, but every spring a unit would be upon us that I would do anything and everything to avoid at all costs.

Baseball.

Everyone, it seemed, except me knew how to play ball.  They could catch with gloves, they could throw farther than I even dreamed, and they could hit that ball out of the park.  I, on the other hand, was more like Ferdinand the Bull, waiting out there in the outfield, smelling the flowers, feverently praying the ball would never come my way.  Sometimes it worked.

Occasionally it didn't and there I'd be, running after the ball and then trying unsuccessfully to get it back to home base.  Nobody ever wanted me on their team. I was always picked last, and so it went through high school where I successfully avoided anything baseball, and heaved a sigh of relief when I graduated.

What I didn't expect was that years later, I would find myself working as an educational assistant in high school PE classes.  How did that happen?

There's something about being in high school PE classes  as an adult that gives you perspective.  The most glaring perspective I was handed immediately was that I am older than I thought, because I'm far slower and tire faster than I even thought possible.  For the first month, I would go home after work and literally fall asleep on the couch.   The other thing I learned was that teenagers, who are often given a bad rap by society, are more amazing than I realized.

Teens really are just big kids, and just like the little ones, love it when you play with them.  It didn't even matter that I was slower and obviously didn't know the rules of the games. For months we played everything from lacrosse to soccer, lifted weights and ran, until spring when the teacher dug out the one thing I had been dreading.

Baseball bats.

Suddenly, I didn't want to play at all.  Those old self conscious feelings came back and as the kids grabbed gloves and balls, I shied into the background.  I'll run, I'll play other games, but to try to hit a ball with a bunch of people staring at me? Are you kidding?  NO. WAY.

"Karen!  Come on! Let's go!"  Two older boys, our class peer helpers, threw me a glove.

"Um..no, that's okay. You go ahead."  I handed it back.  They were persistent. I used every trick in the book to avoid playing, but there's no fooling teenagers.  They figured things out really quick.

"Aw, come on, didn't you throw a ball out back with your Dad? Like, ever?"

Embarrassed, I kept avoiding taking the glove. "I can't catch.  I've never been taught.  I suck at throwing or hitting, and I'd rather not completely make a fool of myself in front of everyone."

The boys stood there, puzzled.  Here I had been absolutely fearless about jumping into most anything we've done, and together we had shared so many laughs, that this was something new.   The teacher began calling us all together to give the rules.

"Just a sec, Mr. A, I have to teach Karen something,"  The glove was shoved into my hands.  "Put it on.  Come over here.  I'm going to teach you how to catch."

I followed, nervously.  "Please, don't laugh at me, okay?"  Why was I so freaked out?

For the next 15 minutes or so, two 16 year olds gently threw a ball to me, never laughing or making me feel badly when I missed and yelling encouragement when I actually caught it.  Bit by bit, I began catching more than missing and found my fear of baseball (or was it more fear of looking stupid?) disappearing.    That day, for the first time in my life, I wasn't like Ferdinand the Bull and actually played.   Not just that, I liked it.  Instead of me teaching them, here two teenagers took a nervous adult and taught me something I had avoided my entire life.

Class was finally over and as we ran in, I turned to the boys.

"Thanks so much for teaching me! I've never had so much fun playing baseball."  They smiled and laughed before leaning over and saying quietly so that nobody else could hear,

"Um...hitting?  Seriously.  We really need to work on that one next."


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