Our school credo says recess is a planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. Nobody gets punished by depriving recess. (We have “Opportunity Room” after school to provide kids the “opportunity” to learn something they didn’t because maybe they made unwise choices.) Although all 200 students aren’t outside at one time, it is always a multi-age group. (All non-academic time is multi-aged BTW: lunch, gym, music, art, special projects, community outreach.) At recess students are encouraged to rest, play, imagine, think, move, socialize, or loiter; for me this means sitting on a bench near the Four Square Games area.
The Clyde episode is all solved, and I’m worn out; non-emergency times show me how much I’m powered by the fight or flight chemicals. (I know. I know. This is not healthy. Mayhap, as Dad would say, corrosive to your innards.)
Back to the Four Square game in progress nearby. I used to like four-square, but now I slouch on this bench, hiding behind my curly “wild” hair. (I forgot to scrunchie it today.) Each time a player hits the ball to another square, this player exits the square, and the partner jumps in. I’ve been half-listening to kids yelling Outside! Inside! Outside! Inside! Four kids stand in the four squares, and a line of kids, ready to jump in when a player goes out, wait outside the squares.
I haven’t played since coming to Mimi and Pop’s. I’m not sure I could stand it. Bench-sitting is better. (If you believe that, I’ll sell you a bridge in the Sonora Desert.) Dad showed me the tricks with the game. In the morning before school, we talk tactics. What’s the Four Square scheme today, Isabel? he says. In Four Square it’s a rule that you can make up rules during a game. And it’s a rule that you can’t violate any of the rules. At breakfast Dad and I sketch the game court in the margin of the newspaper and diagram some tricky maneuver or rule.
Suddenly Oliver is in the game. His “Upper Grade” class has just come onto the playground. Most of them are hanging around the climbing wall, trapeze bar, belt swings and gym rings. Not Oliver. He’s in the Four Square game! I’m not sure how he finagled it. Hey! Wanna play, Isabel? The kids watch to see what I’ll do, not because Oliver is an Older Guy, but they’re looking to see if I budge, Isabel, the non-verbal, passive new kid.
I step into square one.
My PAUSE button unpauses. The line re-forms, and that’s it; I play the rest of recess.
Walking home, it’s just me and Oliver—the twins have half-days for the first month. He asks me how long I’ve been playing.
It’s hard for me to gather the words to answer Oliver’s question. I get the Dad-is-Nearby feeling, maybe cupping his ear to hear me and placing his palm at my back to nudge me. I do not want to tear up. If Oliver goes all sympathetic and googoo-eyes, I might lose it. And then I’m going to want to be outside again.
I make a throat-clearing noise, checking my microphone to see if it’s working. My Dad taught me how to play when I started Kindergarten. We used to talk Four Square every morning.
Before, huh? Every day. Wow.
Yup. Before. It was one of our rituals.
Tough. Oliver’s been kicking a rock as we talk. Now he kicks it on the slant. I take it over. We make a plan to meet at Zia’s barn the next morning. Oliver, the twins, and me. We decide that walking along the pasture fencing will be more fun than the road. It’ll give us a chance to say hi to the calves, lambs, and Sir Isaac. (I’m getting “trained” to curry Sir Isaac on my own when Oliver has Fall baseball practice.)
Think we can figure out a new rule? Oliver asks.
Sure, I answer. Then I make my voice bigger. Hey, we might even sketch it out.