Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work
and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after- school
Did you ever think about
a ball? A ball that is round and rubber, that bounces on any hard surface
and comes right back? Adults forget about the magic of all this. But
nearly all children LOVE a ball. It effortlessly attracts groups of
them to its bright, bouncy, spherical self. It easily organizes their
play. Think how happy a bright yellow, sphere of a big, bouncy ball
must be, giving all that joy to children, letting them do whatever they
want with it. It's happily ready to be kicked, thrown, rolled, bouncedon
the ground or up against a walla ball has that joyful, obedient
In fact, a ball is a joyful, obedient
momentum. Oh, to be more, much more, like a ball!
Every day, the kids run out to the
playground at After-care, and with a shining, yellow ball, assigned
to them like an guardian angel, they stampede to the field to play kickball!
We used to call it Soccer Baseball. Just like in baseball, one team
plays the field while the other "bats", and runners traverse the three
bases and try to score. And with a big, smiley ball to kick high in
the air till it looks like a sun or a moon, and far, far out into the
field as the pitcher serves it up "slow and smooth"what a paradise
for a child!
Each day we start the gameI, the teacher,
pitch for both sidesby deciding what the teams are, a process that
almost invariably leads to raised young voices.
"Third grade 'verse!" shouts someone.
That means the third graders against everybody else.
"No, me and John and Chris against everyone
else!" screams someone else.
"No, we don't want Wally!" comes still
another voice. Children, of course, are famously lacking in social niceties.
I try to undo the harm of such ugly words, any way possible, as soon
as I hear them. Often feeling blessed in my job like the grateful companion
of real cherubs, at times like these my role comes to seem more like
that of a UN Peacekeeper on the Afghan border.
Finally, teams are agreed upon and the
game begins. Relative peace reigns. Bright yellow balls deliciously
meet the feet of youngsters whose sense of empowerment soars with their
mighty, towering drives gloriously rising and falling in blue skies,
popping in and out of arms, bouncing harmlessly off runners being thrown
outuntil the first disputed call.
"I was safe!" shouts the runner, whose
body a thrown ball nicked just as his foot was about to come down on
"You weren't on the base yet!" scream
the opponents. It's amazing how desire influences perception. Soon the
contested play at third is itself forgotten, as each side reinforces
its own view with every shout. Such delays often occur several times
an inning. As umpire, I try to call for take-overs or compromises, sometimes
even when I'm pretty sure what really happened.
Some children have a way of shouting
everything when on a field, so that even if they're not angry, it sounds
as if they are. Or maybe, egged on to extreme competitiveness by parents
or professional sports examples on TV, they are always angry, or close
to it, during a game.
Sometimes it seems the fun of the game,
when all is told, barely outstrips the friction of disputes. I do anything
I can to get the game going again, to see the sun-like ball back in
the blue sky and happy boys and girls rounding bases once more.
Usually in our games there aren't enough
fielders to cover both the bases and the outfield, so that the game
becomes pretty much of a rout by whatever team is kicking. Balls boom
cannon-like off feet into the deep outfield in rapid succession. Hapless
center, right and left fielders drop ball after ball, or turn and chase
balls that have flown over everyone's head. But sometimesit's not
so rare an outfielder will be able to hold onto one of the
towering fly balls, which then becomes a long "out". These catches are
as beautiful to watch as the kicking of such a ball, and profoundly
empower the fielder, who after all has trumped the author of the mighty
Sooner or later the side goes out, the
kickers and fielders switch, and the slaughter reverses. My heart usually
roots for the defenders, who stoically chase balls and await the next
drive into an unoccupied field.
In all the melee' of a kickball game,
the one thing nobody ever seems to do is keep score. After numerous
innings of yesterday's game, I announced from the pitcher's stripe,
loudly, "The score is 673-672."
"Who has the 673?" asked a lone voice,
the only response, and I had to explain that I was joking. The point
is, I suppose, that the game is about kicking and catching and suspense,
and being brought together by a beautiful sun-shiny ball. It's a here-and-now
thing. No one has ever asked, when a game is over, "Who won?"
In fact, the games really don't end at
all, they just sort of fade away. After an hour or so, players start
to drift off, without anyone replacing them. Rarely do they announce,
"I'm leaving" or "I quit." One or two of them go first. Then all of
a sudden one inning, I'll be holding the ball waiting for the sides
to change, and there's nobody else left anywhere on our part of the
"Is that how all these games end?" I
asked one second-grader who was still lingering nearby. She shook her
head "yes". I look around the big blacktop, and everybody's already
doing something else. It's like we never even had a game. Till tomorrow's
stampede, that is.
continued back contents title
"What Remains Is
the Essence", the home pages of Max Reif:
Hall of Famous Jokes", whimsical
prose, paintings, spiritual
recollection, and much more!
the stories? Have any of your own ?
Please introduce yourself:
send an e-mail
sign my Guestbook