on allergy to gravity

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

I kind of hated the playground or park as a child.  Oh, it wasn’t bad if I was there without other kids or maybe just with my little brother and could move at my own speed, challenging myself without the overwhelming presence of others who might see me fail and make fun of me.  But when other kids were there, I mostly didn’t want to be there.  Other kids looked forward to recess for going outside to run and scream and climb and jump and throw balls; I just wanted to find a quiet corner to hide with my book.  Other kids were excited about going to a park; the very thought of doing so when other kids would be there just made me tired and more or less afraid – made me want to go home and ride my pony Patches all by myself.

The worst of it was PE class.  As early as I think maybe 1st grade I can remember “forgetting” my gym shoes and sitting along the sidelines of the gym, happy and relieved to have gotten out of participating in the relay races – especially the one called the “wheelbarrow,” which required me to walk on my hands while a classmate held my feet up from behind.  I just flat couldn’t do that one and the exasperation of my classmates was pretty crushing.  And then there was the one where we had to lay on our bellies on a little wheeled scooter and race using arms only to the end and back, somehow holding our feet up from touching the floor.  Yeah.  That was horrible.  Forgetting my gym shoes would later morph into forgetting my gym clothes – I was the girl who took the maximum number of “no dress” days allowable without failing all throughout junior high and high school, and who happily accepted “Ds” in PE all the time, though anything less than an “A” in any other class was not really good enough.

There were only a two group physical activities I remember enjoying during my grade school years.  One was when all the girls in my class would gather for jumping rope, chanting rhymes while 2 girls swung the rope and the rest took turns jumping.  I could double-dutch and everything.  I liked jumping, and I liked swinging the rope.  I never got tired of jumping rope – it never lasted long enough to suit me, and we never did it as often as I wanted to.

The other group physical activity I enjoyed during my grade school years was not at school.  I lived in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere – it was something like 13 houses and not a single business.  In nice weather, kids and adults would gather to play baseball.  At first we did it in the neighbor’s horse pasture; later a backstop was built on the empty lot in the middle of town and we played there.  It was a nice, low pressure game.  I didn’t have to be good at it.  The adults and even the other kids were massively supportive.  Those ballgames in Burgess are among my favorite childhood memories.

In my later grade school and early junior high years, I recall liking the “square dancing” segment of PE class, which I’m pretty sure all my classmates detested.  But other elements, like tumbling or climbing the rope?  Couldn’t do ’em.  Took a zero and tried to hide from the dismay of my teacher and the contempt of my more athletic classmates.  Dodgeball, bombardment and volleyball were pure hell – they felt like torture meted out deliberately by what I saw as a sadistic PE teacher.

I thought of all that while watching my granddaughter play at the park the other day.  Early evidence seems to indicate that she shares what I call our family’s “allergy to gravity” – we don’t jump, we climb only with great care and no small degree of trepidation and basically no grace at all, we’re not into activities that feel like falling, and even things that challenge our balance in pretty small ways feel like falling.  I think most of it is related to the inner ear thing that used to make my grandpa fall over whenever he got excited – grandpa falling over at family gatherings was just a thing, and the men made a habit of staying on either side of him to catch him when it happened.  He was pretty young for that to be happening as far back as I can remember it, but it was a real thing.  I think he passed some degree of that inner ear trouble on down to the rest of us, making us very, very earthbound folks.

I had very little self-awareness when raising my own kids, which meant I was pretty oblivious and unintentional in a lot of ways.  So I never even tried to address this issue with them.  My son had to face it pretty hard at boot camp, and he accomplished some things I’d have said his body just wouldn’t do.  Watching E, I wondered:  what can we do to help her past these obstacles?  How can we empower her to be less afraid, less awkward, less reluctant, maybe even less allergic to gravity than the rest of us have suffered through being?  The benefit of being at this age and stage of my life is I understand how nearly limitless things are for her now, and how life will come in and speak limits to her along the way.  I’d love to give her tools to push back at those limits and be the boss of them.

I don’t have it all worked out, but I’m pretty sure the answers are there and waiting to make themselves known.  Hopefully we can so encourage her that she won’t be someday 50 and still able to touch how awful the park or the PE class felt.  Hopefully movement can be a joyous challenge for her instead of an item of embarrassment and even shame.


  1. Cindy Maynard says:

    I pray God reveals to you how you might encourage and help her avoid becoming like “us”. I hated PE class as well. And no matter how much effort I gave, I never got respectable grades. Oh yeah, in every other class I got high grades, but never PE. I think that if a kid is trying they should get an A for effort. Not everyone is athletic or even really desires to be. But being discouraged in PE should just not happen. And they should have a separate class for the jocks/athletes. Of course this is all my opinion. 😉

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