Monday, February 21, 2011

things I will tell my daughter: about being the last one picked


There's a ritual Bean and I have where we recite all her friends from her Nursery class at church. She asks me if she had a good day in nursery (this is my cue to ask her the same question). When I do, she says yes. Then she asks me who was there. "Who was in Nursery today?" And even if it's Thursday, and there is no question that she didn't actually attend Nursery that day, we go through the list. I ask if Luke was there. I ask if Brixton was there. I ask if Joyce was there. And so we go through every child in her class. Somehow, I always forget the same person. When we reach the end and I'm wondering why I don't have the right number of children counted, I have to think and think and think before I realize who we've missed.

It happens every time.

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I was never good at sports. In middle school I remember lamenting this fact to my older brother, he of the Always Good at Sports Fame. He of the memorizing stats and being known by each and every athletic coach in school. He who was older than I, and when these same coaches and teachers saw me coming heaved an inward sigh, thinking, well--- we don't have the same luck with this one.

My brother told me, as I bemoaned my forever failed status in sports, that I should get involved in running. I'd probably really like it, and further--- it didn't involve any hand/eye coordination, which I significantly lacked.

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One of my strongest memories from grade school is also a recurring one. It is the afternoon sun on a southern California day in May (or June or March or February). The asphalt of the playground bounces heat into our small faces as we stand against the chainlink fence. I smell dust and sweat and the high sweet linger of barbecue potato chips. Our teacher stands in front of us, kickball in hand, explaining the rules to a game we all know. Then she picks two team captains, both of them as swift and sure-footed as I am clumsy. I back deeper into the chainlink, pulling my fingers through the fence, twisting my skin against the metal. Later, my hands will smell like rust. I am thinking of a long cold drink of water. I am thinking of my mother's face when she picks me up from school later that afternoon. I am thinking of the small box of red beads we bought yesterday at the craft store. I am thinking of the way I tore my pink shorts. I am thinking of everything I can while they pick teams for kickball. I do my best to not wonder if I will be last.

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It took me several years to finally try running. When I did, in my middle to late twenties, I was freshly out of a all-too-long-lasting-but-not-healthy relationship and wanted to find something that could be mine. Something that would get me moving but didn't require special equipment or a membership card or any rules or knowledge. Running fit that bill.

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I am, by all accounts, not a good runner. I don't run marathons or half marathons or anything with a K in it. I don't read running books or have a subscription to a running magazine. I have never consumed anything resembling an energy gel and I see no reason to ever change that. These days I don't even run outside. I use a treadmill and have no need to defend it. No one is going to remember me for long miles logged or for summits reached or for crossing a finish line surrounded by cheering fans. I run because it feels good, because it gives me time to think, because it's great exercise. I run because I can.

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If you've never wondered, you don't need to know, but I can tell you why you don't ever want to be last on a team. It isn't as simple as the fact that you are, indeed, last. It's because every other choice has been a choice. Every other person gets picked. They are selected. Their name is spoken and they are welcomed onto a team. The last one just stands there. Shuffles over to her team because there are no more choices. It's a default.

It's also painful. Weird. Humiliating. And sadly: usually justified.

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Because even though I fantasized from time-to-time that my last-picked-for-the-kickball-team status would be miraculously turned around by some stupendous never-before-seen-amazing kickball move, it never happened. I was just awful at kickball. Terrible. I hid in the outfield (as far away as I could get, in fact, without getting in trouble for not playing the game). It's possible that they even invented a whole secondary set of field positions thanks to my as-far-out-as-possible outfield placement: the inner-outfielders. The inner-outfielders were serious kickball players. Those boys stood with hands on their knees and watched every play. They shouted about moving around the field to anticipate strong kickers. They ran until they were sweaty, dripping. They caught the flying, spinning kickballs of death that scared me so much I wanted to vomit.

The inner-outfielders never gave me a second thought.

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Standing out on the blacktop, I thought a lot about heat. Imagine a field as far as the eye can see, set deep in southern California, with southern California sun. A field composed entirely of asphault. No grass. The sun beat down on my head. It sometimes felt like my brain would melt and leak out my ears. I picked at my cuticles. I stared at my shoes. I wished I could figure out a way that sitting down would be considered acceptable kickball behavior.

They had to shout several times when it was our turn to kick. I watched small figures of my classmates waving me down, hands high over their heads, to come infield.

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I wonder about those boys who played kickball. I wonder about the memories they built in their minds: memories of sweaty afternoons chasing the perfect game. Those boys don't think about the last one picked for the team. They don't think about the outfield that existed beyond the one they made.

+ + + + +

Now when I talk to Alice about the children in her class, I do my best to remember every classmate. We talk about every smile. I want her to think about the things that each child brings to the world: they are unique and funny and smart and sweet.

But gosh darn it, if I still don't forget that kid every time.

This is what I want to tell Alice one day, before she walks out onto a blacktop and before she plays her first game of kickball: you might not be naturally gifted in everything. You might be terrible. You might be forgettable. You might be the last one picked for a team. It doesn't matter. Maybe you'll be good at everything you do. You might be team captain and head cheerleader and a straight A student. While all of that is stupendous, and laudable, and I'm sure I'll be so incredibly proud I could burst---- the most important thing you need to do, regardless of skill, is to find something you love to do. Find something that makes you happy, that helps you to feel strong. Find something that helps you to think and breathe and be more of yourself. And do that.

You're going to be just fine.


Pickles and Dimes said...


Amanda said...

Oh good lord. I didn't WANT to be picked because then I would have to PLAY and people would be LOOKING at me and I would D I E.

Couldn't reading just be declared a sport? And who fared better in life anyway?


Beautiful post!

wandering nana said...

I love reading your thoughts. I always have a hard time when it comes to picking teams.... I don't ever want anyone, including me, to be last. We would have people line up and then divide the line in the middle..... it helped but didn't always solve things.

tearese said...

I agree with Amanda whole heartedly...please don't pick me, I don't want to play! I remember when it was our teams turn to kick,hit, or whatever the sport required. I would stand in the line and let people go in front of me.. and they would act like I was doing them a FAVOR. Hahah. I was so happy when the teacher wouldn't notice.
And in I prayed the ball would never come my way!

I loved how this post all came together.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

I have a serious problem. Your blog comes under the Blogs I Follow heading at the VERY bottom of my reader and I never make it down there. So weeks will go by before I get to read a whole bunch of your posts in one greedy gulp.

I must fix this. Because this post is stunning and deserving of attention and should NOT be relegated to the bottom of my reader.

(PS. I was last to be picked too. The gym class heroes once actually FOUGHT over who HAD to have me, when both teams were equal numbers.)
(PPS. My team eventually lost. But I don't remember ever touching, or being allowed to touch, the ball.)