School 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 activities supervisor


     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, bounced—on the ground or up against a wall—a ball has that joyful, obedient momentum.
      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 game—I, the teacher, pitch for both sides—by 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 out—until 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 third base.
      "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 sometimes—it'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 drive.
      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 playground.
      "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 page

 "What Remains Is the Essence", the home pages of Max Reif:
poetry, children's stories, "The Hall of Famous Jokes", whimsical prose, paintings, spiritual recollectionand much more!

Enjoy the stories? Have any of your own ?
introduce yourself:

send an e-mail my way
sign my Guestbook