George Bernard Shaw has been known to say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” He has a point of course; young people are too immature to realize just how much fun they’re having. Those of us firmly entrenched in mid-life however understand all too well how brief, how fleeting it can all feel. We know, or that is, most of us can mark a point in our lives when it stopped being fun and started feeling all at once burdensome, and heavy, maybe even sad.
Okay, well not to be too morose, but I was feeling rather encumbered the other day when I came across a handful of little eight year old girls jumping rope. I was drawn to them. I haven’t seen that activity being played out in front of me in quite a long time, and I was struck with how happy they looked, how absorbed they were in their game. Two of them were turning the large rope while the other three or four waited in line for their turns. To be honest, they were not very good at it, the game was not going very smoothly. For one thing, one of the turners was rather small (much like myself at that age) and that size differential made the rope kind of lopsided, so whomever “came in” had to find just the right place in order to compensate for the “low” side. Get hit with the rope and you’re at the end of the line. That’s how it goes. This was not obvious to them so I watched a couple of tall girls get out even before they could get in. I found myself getting frustrated.
I knew that I could not interfere, that my suggestions and my encouragement and even my years of experience with this particular activity would never be appreciated by any of them. But here’s what was going on in my head and it is worth noting if for no other reason than it made me confront my own mid life crisis head on in a way that I had not approached it before.
I wanted to jump.
I really wanted to jump. I didn’t just want to offer sage advice from the sidelines, like a coach or a mentor, I wanted a turn. I wanted to get at the end of the line, and then approach the rope and show them all how it is done. I am in pretty good shape so I even convinced myself that I could do it, get in and get out and take a bow. I’d never do anything fancy mind you, I am not a show off or anything, but perhaps if they could see my timing, my footwork…
Of course it is absurd. I’d trip and be on the ground—I had the wrong kind of shoes on. I’m not stupid. But if I took them off…
The point is I wanted to have that kind of fun again. I wanted to jump rope with some of the girls. I wanted to experience that again—recess, the laughing, the clapping, the unbridled joy at listening for and hearing the rope swish across the ground, knowing that I would be under it in a flash, that they would sing while I jumped, encouraging me, but also maybe hoping that I would not finish the song because recess was almost over and they are next…
I wanted to play. I guess I wanted to be a little girl again. I’m thinking I’ll be the one in the nursing home about whom all the aides whisper, “Don’t mind her, she drags that rope everywhere. She’s looking for a game.”
It is hard to have that kind of simple fun when you’re older. Not only are you deemed eccentric or just plain nuts if you try, there is always the risk of actual injury, which if you have to say, “ I tripped on the rope while doing “Spanish Dancer”-- I went to “get out of town “ and got all tangled up... it could be embarrassing, worth it if you’re me, but embarrassing nonetheless.
So I just watched. I caught one little girl’s eye. She saw me watching. When it was her turn she hesitated. The rope turned and turned and turned and she looked at it, leaned in and then stepped back again, and it turned and it turned, and it turned and I started whispering (loudly) “Now. Now. Now!” Then she went. And she got in. A few turns and she was out. But she smiled at me. None of the other girls had been able to get in like that, mid-rope-turn. When the whistle blew they dropped the rope and started walking inside. I walked up beside her and I said, “Good job.” I raised my hand just slightly and she smacked it and smiled.
Now that was fun.