“Can I play?” I asked my son.
Solomon was in the sunroom. Bouncing one of the bouncy balls we got him for Hanukkah. Or Chanukah, depending on your orthographic mood. Solomon had placed two laundry baskets next to each other. One was upside-down.
“Sure, Daddy,” my son told me.
“What do I do?”
Solomon showed me what to do. He was trying to bounce the ball off the upside-down basket. Into the right-side up basket. Clever.
“I like to make it hard,” he said as he pushed the baskets further apart.
The game was fun. Solomon and I took turns. We played a couple of rounds before Mom told us it was time to get ready for school.
School tends to get in the way of fun.
I love bouncy balls. A strange memory came to me after playing with my son Solomon.
The memory was from 2008, when I started teaching at Roseville High School. Thirteen years ago! I was a different person. In a different world.
Another English teacher’s classroom was down the hall from mine. In the C-Wing. I won’t name the other English teacher here, in case I say terrible things about him. I won’t. I really loved this guy. Still do.
One of the things I loved about this guy? He also had a thing for bouncy balls.
I don’t remember why, but I had a handful of bouncy balls in my desk. I don’t remember why, but he did too. Other teachers had worksheets or pencils or something. We had bouncy balls. That tells you all you need to know.
My friend and I, like my son would do thirteen years later, came up with a game. We stood near the doors to our classrooms. Tossed the ball back and forth. There were probably fifty yards between our doors. Maybe more. What a challenge!
The game grew more complex over time. Trick shots. Bounce it off a bay of lockers. The fluorescent lights. We grew more daring, and started to play the game during passing time. Hundreds of students shuffled to class. We’d try to bounce the ball around them. Under them. Over them. I’d make diving catches between their legs. Sometimes they’d laugh. Or they’d catch the ball and throw it back to one of us.
This is how I hit a girl in the face with a bouncy ball. A sophomore. I remember her name, but I won’t use it here. To protect the innocent. I was trying to be cute. Make an impossible throw. Zing the ball by her head. It didn’t go by her head. It went through it.
“Oh my God!” I howled. “Are you okay?”
She was fine. Just a little shocked.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could my friend. Most of the educators I’ve worked with wouldn’t laugh about hitting a student with a bouncy ball. But my friend did. That was another reason I loved him. The idea that a teacher would fire a bouncy ball at a student’s face cracked me up, and he got it.
Our game wasn’t really that dangerous. Only a little dangerous. And the silliness of acrobatics in the hallway was a nice respite from the overwhelming flow of another school day.
One day the school’s principal came around the corner as my friend was firing a bullet down the hallway. The look on her face was sheer terror. You’d think we’d were skinning a kitten.
She put the kibosh on our game. Later, she almost put the kibosh on my career. Read about the gory details here.
I’ll write it again. School tends to get in the way of fun. Which drives me crazy because it shouldn’t.
I’ve built a cache of memories over the last forty-one years. That’s what people do I guess. It’s funny to me what comes to the surface. And how it comes to the surface. And when it comes to the surface. Nothing rationale about memory. No standardized assessment could make sense of it. Despite what people in schools who aren’t any fun would have you believe. Our minds are too complex. Our souls too. Consciousness is complicated.
So many of my memories involve school. That’s what twenty years as an educator does to you, I guess. Twenty years as a student, too. That’s lots of school.
I’ve created all sorts of fun spaces in school. Both as a student and a teacher. Read about it in the book I linked to above. I won’t get into any more stories here. It’s a blog, for goodness sake! Keep it short, Sam.
I know vital spaces can exist in school. But nine times out of ten, a principal comes around the corner with a look of sheer terror on their face. A frowning adult. I made that stat up off the top of my head by the way, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
People are so afraid of what they don’t understand. And vitality is improvisational. It is unique and strange. That’s the way with things that are alive. And school should be alive. But people like the principal who came around the corner are so quick to kill. The choose to destroy rather than build. It’s always frustrated me. This is more true as I get older. As I grow accustomed to the routine. I’ve come to be able to predict how and why people come up with ways to stifle conversations or activity in school. “That’s so weird” or “You can’t do that” or “That’s unprofessional” or whatever. It’s all the same. Evaluative statements. Impositions of one way of doing things. People are so eager to repress generative expression of humanity. It’s tragic. Sinful. Etc.
It’s funny to me when these silly blogs turn into rants. It’s probably good for me. Say what I want to say. What I need to say, I guess. Write what I have to write, whether anybody listens or not. That’s seems to be the gist of my career as a fledgling author.
The point? I don’t think I ever have a point. But I’ll write that playing bouncy ball with Solomon, much like playing bouncy ball with my friend in 2008, was fun. And school, like school often does, got in the way.