I did a little research on recess in schools and was surprised what I found. I thought I’d find a plethora of articles condemning recess. I was wrong. Instead I had to wade through the many articles supporting the importance of recess. I guess because my experience was one of fear and loneliness, that I assumed it was that way for others as well.
An article in Pathways to Family Wellness lists the many benefits of recess. Some examples are,
Recess increases focus…Natural light improves wellness…Reduces stress…Develops social skills,
…and more. The last item on the list is the one that stands out to me. Develop social skills? All it did for me was make me lonely, sad and afraid. Maybe what I learned is exactly what I was supposed to be learning – that my social skill was to feel less than. I mean, that’s the way it’s felt my entire life, and maybe school was the place for me to get use to the idea.
I look back on some memories and feel like I must not have been terribly unpopular. In the 2nd grade. I was pinned up against the kissing tree after all. What was the kissing tree? It was mostly a girl’s sport. A large group of girls would pick a boy and chase him around the playground. Once they caught him, they would push his back against the tree and would kiss him like crazy. It was silly, but it scared the shit out of me. Maybe those little gay genes were already twitching.
What about playing with the boys? Well, they were playing basketball and other sports and I was too inept to play any of those. None of them ever wanted me on their team, so I wound up always being one of the last ones picked.
Not many kids played marbles back then. It was a dying game, but there were a few players left. One of those few was Danny. Danny was big and mean and a bully. One day I was watching Danny and another kid play. I have no idea what I said or did but Danny pulled me up and was ready to beat the shit out of me. It’s cliché, but I was saved by the bell. I steered clear of him from then on.
In my murky self-pity mind, there is one memory that makes me think I must not have hated recess all the time. In the 3rd grade I got in trouble for something in class. Of course, I don’t remember why. My penalty was to not be allowed to go out to recess for the rest of the year. This left me angry and hurt when I should have been happy about this punishment. Instead, when recess started that day I decided to leave.
There were two roads that led to my home. One was paved, and one was dirt. I felt the dirt road was my safest bet. I was right. I was able to walk the 2 ½ miles from Bertrand Elementary School to my home without even having a car pass. When I got home, I told my mom that I was sick and that the principle, Mrs. Light, dropped me off. I always called Mrs. Light, Mrs. Light Bulb. To a third grader, that was hysterical.
I was sent up to my room and stayed there until I heard someone coming down our long gravel driveway. It was Mrs. Light Bulb. I knew I needed to hide so I ran out to the back of the house and hid amongst some vines on an embankment while she and my mom searched for me. When I thought the coast was clear, I climbed up and straight into the arms of my principal. She grabbed my collar, started shaking me and yelled a lot. My mom’s reaction was to yell, “Get your hands off of him!” The two of them argued a bit and Mrs. Light Bulb drove away. Mom abhorred violence and the principal had gone too far. She told me she thought it was odd that I’d just be dropped off, but saw no reason why I’d lie about it. I know my parents later met with the teacher, but I don’t remember the outcome. I think I was allowed to go back to recess so I could be bullied by the other kids some more.
When I was in the 5th grade. My family moved to North Carolina in the middle of the school year. It was awkward, but the kids in my class welcomed me. During lunch they talked about sports and who got to have me on their team. That fun lasted until we went to recess and they quickly learned that I couldn’t play any sport. No one asked me to be on their team after that. The moment that hurt the most that year was a day I was sitting on a step alone watching the other kids play. My teacher came up and kneeled beside me and I pointed out to her that the plane flying overhead was an American Airlines jet. Being kind she asked if I enjoyed watching the planes overhead and seeing what airline they are. Not knowing what to say, I told her yes. She kept me company for a few minutes. When she walked away I started beating the crap out of myself in my head. What kid in the 5th grade enjoys watching airplanes fly over? I did it because I was alone and had nothing else to do. Couldn’t she have understood that? She was very nice and I understand her heart was in the right place, but it only emphasized how alone I was.
What was recess like for you?