A Peg or Two

image

It’s hard to play dodgeball with small kids. Not because of the moral dilemma of flattening them with a single well-aimed toss (EASY: DO IT), but because your tosses are never well aimed with a wobbly foam dodgeball, and very small kids are very small targets. And because they humiliate you every. Single. Time.

They (internet proverbs and glib Facebook statuses) say we should “do one one thing a day that scares” us. Most of us like to do the things that makes us feel and seem awesome. We like to take on the easy tasks at work and really blow those out of the water: I ordered the hell out of that office lunch. That Fedex got mailed so hard. I knocked that data entry out of the park.

This also extends to relationships. It’s always a little more fun to hang out with the friend that says nice stuff about you, encourages you and agrees with you. Whether or not you’re actually close, it’s easier to hang out with the nice ones. And it’s always easier to send that 2am text when you know you’re getting a winky face back.

Whatever it is, we don’t like to challenge ourselves that often. But sometimes, we find ourselves in situations that stretch us.

I grew up with/around trampolines and always loved them. They’re a ton of exercise and I get to fly. Naturally, when a friend of mine told me about a place that is made of trampolines, I agreed to accompany him.

Of course, it should have occured to me BEFORE getting there that everyone would be much, much younger than us. There were some teens, but we were on the higher end of their patron age spectrum. And yet, that never translated to dominance on the dodgeball court.

In my three trips to the trampoline-centric establishment, I have been hit twice in the right eye and once in the man-junk. Always by a child. Each time, I would clap, walk off to a chorus of howls (my eye involuntarily streaming), and act like I was fine only to find a dark corner to groan in for a while.

The thing you notice isn’t so much the familiar (from middle school) disappointment and shame, but how it is so very different when you feel it as an adult. I have a college diploma, work a 50-hour week, pay taxes, have health insurance, make my car payments and drink alcohol. I am a fully-formed member of society and yet, being older and smarter than a child doesn’t make you any better at dodging or throwing a ball. In fact, it makes you worse. You are larger, slower, and woefully out of practice. As a result, your comparative cannon of an arm is useless against a horde of mean-spirited punks armed with dodgeballs. And while you know full-well what you’ve gotten yourself into, it doesn’t make it suck less when you lose.

Now, I’m already pretty uncomfortable. There’s a line to get into the dodgeball game, so I’m sweating in place, surrounded by children and their staring parents. I’ve sweated through my tshirt and basketball shorts. My friend, unnervingly comfortable, won’t stop chatting up the kids in line. I’m working hard to beat back self-consciousness, but… boy howdy.

I get out there, and within the first minute, I’m pegged. Just, every time. Something changes when everything hits its absolute worst moment. I get that dodgeball to the whatevers, and instead of the ego-devouring black hole I expect, there comes a moment of perfect clarity. Only at my stretch-limit, the shocking rock bottom of pubescent public humiliation did I remember to laugh at the game. And then I laugh at myself.

Rilke says, “We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them.” Put simply, the dodgeball game itself isn’t self conscious and making a big deal of things… I am.

Waiting in line, kids start including you in their dodgeball trashtalk. I got the title “Yellow Shirt.” I talked with their parents, who bring them there nearly every weekend. There’s a subculture here, a community of great normal people based on a mutual need to yell and sweat and blow off steam. After a baptism-through-dodgeballs it becomes clear that it’s all in good fun. I mean, it’s on trampolines for pete’s sake.

So I get back into the game and this smug 10 year old is backflipping away from several throws at once when I find a ball. I wind up, fire and the ball, going much much faster than is really appropriate, wizzes by his face. He turns and begins to form the sound of a “ha” when a speeding bullet of a throw beans him in the head, and he collapses in a heap. Kids are so dramatic. Might’ve started to cry, doesn’t matter. My instant ally, no taller than 4 feet, gives me a thumbs up.

I don’t feel bad that his Mom rushed out to the court. It doesn’t hurt anybody to get knocked down a peg or two.