Field Day. Did you have this when you were in school? A day, or maybe only half of a day, dedicated to being outside, on the playing fields around the school, participating in track and field events?
God, how I hated field day when I was a kid. I remember elementary school and the annual field day. It would be blistering hot outside and we were forced to participate in competitive sports: relay races, the 50-meter dash, the long jump, broad jump, an obstacle course, and then for fun, a tug-o-war. But the teachers kept score. They had stop watches and clip boards. The fastest runners, the best jumpers, they won medals and the praise of the teachers around them. The rest of us? Me? The loser(s). I wasn’t fast enough to win a race, couldn’t jump far enough to win a medal. So I’d trudge from event to event in the hot, hot sun with the added burn of shame on my shoulders, not good enough, not good enough. No medal. Not a winner. Not good enough.
And then, like to rub it in, I got to stand there as they built the teams for tug-o-war. Not fat, but somewhat chubby. Chubby enough to wait and wait and wait until they were running out of students and were looking for the anchors of the team. Here’s a hint. Just because a girl can pinch an inch, doesn’t mean she’s a hulk. It doesn’t mean she can pull your entire team of skinny high jumping fast kids from the brink of the mud puddle. So you shouldn’t all turn on her when she doesn’t whip out bionic arm powers and fling you all across the fields to the parking lot, away from the puddle. Get over it already.
No, I haven’t.
That was 1976… perhaps.
And now, it’s 2008. And my son’s elementary school does field day. “Oh, no!” I think. Not that. Anything, but that. All the old feelings of inadequacy come storming back. I don’t want my son to feel that way. I don’t want field day to be a bad memory for him too. I keep my mouth shut, but I shudder at the thought.
Parents are invited to watch the field day events. If participating in them isn’t bad enough, I think watching from the sidelines will be even worse. I can feel like a loser all over again even when I’m merely a spectator.
But I go anyway.
And who knew there were 20 different ways to hold a relay race? Field Day. It would be more apt to call it 20 Ways to Relay Day. There is the 911 Frog Relay where you pick up a large rubber frog wrapped in white bandages, and you run across the grass to drop him inside the hula hoop with the red tape in the shape of a hospital cross. And the Hamburger Relay where you run over to a desk masquerading as a grill, pick up a spatula, and slip over bean bags pretending to be hamburgers before you run back and tag your team mate. Then there is the Water Relay where you dip an overturned Frisbee into a bucket of water to fill it up like a platter, move as quickly as you can across an expanse of grass (with minimal spillage) to an empty bucket where you dump the Frisbee full of water. The team with the most water in the bucket wins, uh, nothing. But the kids get wet and they have fun anyway. Nobody is keeping score. Not the teachers. Not the 5th graders manning the stations. Not at the beach relay or the water sprinkler relay or the obstacle course. Not the kids who are covered in mud and don’t care. And not me. I’m just watching. And not feeling like a loser.
I catch the gym teacher and casually mention how much better this is than when I was a kid. “Competition,” she says, “Who needs it? This is just for fun.”
“Besides,” another teacher chimes in. “These kids,” she says, tilting her head at the running kindergarteners, “They can’t really follow rules. They cheat. It wouldn’t do any good to keep score. This is just for fun.”
Just for fun.
Later in the evening, when my son is home and the mud from the field has been washed off, we’re talking.
“Mom,” he says. “There is a game called Dodge Ball.”
“Yes,” I say. “I know. We used to play that in gym class when I was a kid. Why? Is your class playing Dodge Ball?”
“No,” He says, sounding relieved.
“Do you know how to play it?” I ask.
“I think people throw things at your head!” he says, alarmed.
“Well, they throw balls at you, but they aren’t supposed to throw them at your head,” I say. “Maybe at your chest or your legs. Definitely not at your head,” I say, and he audibly sighs.
He sounds relieved.
But then he offers a new twist on the old game: “I know what would be fun,” he says. “Dodge Cinderblocks!”
My eyes widen in alarm.
“You,” I say, pointing at him for emphasis, “Will NEVER be in charge of field day!”
And that, I think, is one game I won’t ever play. Even if it is for fun.