what ever happened to recess? you know, that part of the day that we all cherished in school, an hour or so playing four square or hopscotch.
my recollections of elementary school are vague, and clouded with the mist of time and repressed memories, but i seem to remember recess was right after lunch. we would be marched, single file – on odd days it would be boy-girl-boy-girl to decrease the rowdiness whilst in line – down past the music and art rooms, through the back doors to the school, and out onto the bus parking lot (on rainy days, out into the ‘covered play area’ – code for what passed as a gym).
the blacktop was covered with various glyphs, numbers, lines, circles. there was two-square and four-square, which required checking out a ball from the PE coach in charge that day – to be returned when the game was done or recess was over. there were hopscotch ‘courts’ where the girls that weren’t tomboys would gather, always working on some odd ruleset that, i’m certain, wouldn’t be kosher with the world hopscotch championship. certainly there were bits and pieces of jungle gyms and swings off to the side (whose space in later years would be taken up with trailers and accessory buildings) along with my personal favorite – tetherball (more on that below). and, of course, there was the forbidden, off-limits, yet oft-visited woods on the other side of the parking lot.
digging in the dirt, climbing trees, chasing one another through the underbrush – all the while thinking we were so smart, hidden from the world. in reality, the ‘woods’ was about ten trees and some overgrown weeds, but it was fun nonetheless.
one of my most vivid recollections of recess is an odd one- right up there with the time i was witness to a classmate tripping one of the less popular girls in class, sending her flying, eventually to return to school the next day with a cast and broken wrist, to which the tripper, with all the sincerity he could muster made ‘my foot slipped’ his only defense.
but my favorite memory is of the time i was at the head of the line for a four square game, the court having been monopolized by a group of older girls. their monopoly of the court was such that they played in a friendly manner, not trying to get one another out, but simply trying to extend their game. when a mishap did cause one of them to be declared ‘out’ it was declared a do-over (voted four to one against the judge – namely me, being the first in line). this continued for some time until i was heard to complain that if this went on much longer i would have to call on a higher authority (the ‘let me play or i’ll call the teacher’ ploy). it was to this that the leader of the girl troupe, catching the ball and stopping play, replied, “why don’t you, you stooge”
she actually used that word. stooge.
i can’t understand why or how she stumbled on that word, when the elementary school standby of geek or nerd or even doofus would have sufficed, but she did. she called me a stooge. at which point one of my good friends (second in line) and i both broke out in our best “three stooges” imitations. the girls were sent packing amid a flurry of nyuk nyuks and woop woops. it was a grand day for stooges.
so. my point. where has recess gone? why, when we were self-important adolescents in middle school/junior high, did we not cry out “why do i have to go back to class now?” when it was so obviosly time for recess? why was there no general rebellion, when it seemed everything else we did was rebellious (or so we thought)?
the idea came to me the other day when lunch ran long – as lunches that double as meetings often do – degenerating into a combination of social chatter and marketing jabber (paper reps. oy) after deflating for a while, and generally forgetting the trauma of the morning, i was able to focus with crystal clarity again on what i was doing once i finally got back to my desk. it was a little break, certainly no hour of running full-tilt at trees or bouncing a red ball off someone’s head for kicks, but it was something. i’m not 8 any more, i don’t need a nap in the middle of the day – though some days i’d really like one – and i don’t need to run myself ragged after lunch to burn off the sugar and hyperactivity before going back to social studies, but i do need a little release.
a long lunch thinking of nothing but.. well, nothing.. is a lot like the catharsis of hitting the little yellow ball, tied to a post, so hard and so high that it wraps itself around the pole before your opponent has a chance to hit it. it helps that you’re a little bit taller than him (and the only person that could ever beat me was a girl that was even taller than me). it also helps if you take a long deep breath before you smack the ball as hard as your little chubby arms can muster. the other kids, patiently (or not) waiting their turn just outside the tethered radius, giving little oohs and aahs at the subtly spiraling circles inscribed by a choice serve. the hollow twanging smack that sends the yellow beastie sailing overhead, just to return to my range when it comes back around.
i read about some of the new, young, hip high tech companies putting couches and pool tables in the office to pamper their employees. i think my office needs a tetherball.