As a child, my least favorite day of school was Field Day. Back then things were quite different; you were actually given awards for your effort. It was a day for the competitive and physically agile. I happened to lack these two things. (Unless making flower necklaces in the outfield during a softball game counts as having a competitive nature.) I was a smart child, so in some dusty corner of my mind, I justified my lack of physical capabilities. You can’t be good at everything, right? So, on Field Day, I did the bare minimum and watched as those with grade school muscle won ribbons and such.
Field Day is much different now. No one wins ribbons. There is no showboating or elevating one kid above another. It is considerably less competitive, minus one event: Tug-o-war. Classes compete with each other in a fierce game in which the only prize is bragging rights for an entire year. It is phenomenal to watch, specifically, kindergarten. These five- and six-year-olds have never competed in this competition. They watch with excitement as the older classes compete before them.
The week leading up to field day my daughter and I discussed who the heavy hitters were in her kindergarten class. We talked over who was the strongest and how that person should be at the end of the rope. Minutes leading up to her class’ turn, I talked with my daughter’s teacher and she filled me in on her strategy. We both knew who was taking the end of the rope. She had known for months.
He was a sweet boy and an excellent reader. He was animated and high energy. He also had an unfortunate knack for getting in trouble. But he was our hope and he knew it. I talked strategy right before the class went up.
“You gotta dig. You don’t look back. Just focus on the grass in front of you. Don’t look back. Dig deep like you do on the football field.” He nodded, his competitive nature shining through his bright smiling eyes and wide smile.
Most of the kids in that class are small. It is kindergarten, but some look like little toddlers. Her teacher and I did our best to make sure those kids were in a position to feel as if they actually helped, the whole time knowing the boy in the back was putting in the real effort. And man, did he show up.
On only two occasions have I seen him so focused. Once while reading a book about a monster, and this very day, holding that heavy rope. Eyes squinted with fierce determination, little dude dug in deep and pulled that rope. He turned to face the ball on the cone he was instructed to knock off the second he was within reach, and he pulled and dug and pulled and dug. The rest of the class wore grimaces of effort, some of concern. Not him, he was focused on the inches he needed to get to that ball. And not so slowly, he gained ground until the ball was in reach. He kicked it off in one smooth movement.
The first half of Field Day was a bit emotional for me. Mainly because I am a socially anxious person who is physically drained by having conversations with people I barely know. But also because there have been lots of cuts in my children’s school district and many parents are fearful of what will happen. Many don’t want to send their children to any of these middle schools. There is concern woven in almost all of their voices. So, it was hard to hear about those selling their houses and moving west in hopes of better schools and safer neighborhoods. This is a big chunk of families.
A panic begins to build inside me … Everyone is leaving. There will be no one left. Am I neglecting my children by sending them to these schools? What the hell kind of parent am I?! Are they better parents than I am? Do they love their kids more? Obvi, I will have horrible, defunct kids if I keep them here. How will they go to college? Will they make it out of 8th grade? What if they try drugs? Or see drugs? Or hear someone talk about drugs? Oh my gosh, what if they Snapchat? Or worse, Instagram?! Everyone knows Instagram is the gateway drug to porn and serial killer-ism. I need to put my house on the market ASAP. My kids are gonna die in 6th grade. What other option do we have?!
Naturally, I voiced all of these concerns to my husband immediately after Field Day, from the parking lot at the school, before I even started my car. His response was the same as it always has been, a consistent and unwavering, “People suck, Stefanie.” Later when he got home, he explained his “people suck” comment with a simple statement that was somehow so full of wisdom that I almost cried. As I thought about our son getting locked up for a crime his imaginary friends convinced him to go along with, and the imaginary judge sentenced him to life in an imaginary maximum security prison, my husband said, “Let’s just get through 4th grade.”
My brain wrinkled.
We are at the end of the rope! This is a game of tug-o-war. It doesn’t matter how many people are facing in another direction. We are pulling for the same thing. We want to do what is best for our kids. For some that is moving across the river. For some that is staying where we are. For my family, that is focusing on that ball on top of that cone. We have to dig in and pull that rope. Taking it inch by inch. Squinting my eyes to focus on only what is good for my family. I can’t continue to look around. I can’t concern myself with what other people are doing and whether or not they are doing it better than me.
Right now, we just need to get through the 4th grade.