Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm Playing

One of the more pleasant aspects of being a teacher is being acknowledged around the holidays by the families. Now I'm an enormous fan of baked goods and other sweets, most of which don't even make the trip from the school to my home, but this past year, they were generous enough in the form of gift cards and cash that I was able to purchase the new bicycle for which I'd been hankering. 

It's a pretty ride: gun metal gray with orange wheels, hand grips, and brake cable housing. This is a single speed road bike, meaning that I've dispensed with shifting gears, relying solely on the strength of my legs. It comes with what's called a flip-flop hub. This allows me to ride it either with a flywheel, which means I can coast down hills and around corners, or I can ride it as a fixed gear bike, which means I'm pedaling all the time I'm on it. For the past few weeks I've been riding it as a "fixie."

If you're unfamiliar with Seattle and it's environs you should know that this is a city built on hills. The ability to downshift to make it to the top of say, Queen Anne Hill or Capital Hill, is generally considered to be vital if you're going to actually use a bike for transportation and not just recreation. So you'll probably not be surprised to learn that the first question everyone has asked me about my new bike is, "Why?" Why would anyone attempt to navigate Seattle on a single speed bike that forces you to keep pedaling at all times, even around corners?

I've developed a sort of vague answer, one that involves having grown irritated with the need to constantly be fiddling with derailleurs, cables, squeaky pulleys, and doubts about which of the 21 gears really is best for this or that assent, which has the benefit of being part of the truth. Another part of my answer involves a confession that I'd been noticing that fixies were the bikes of choice for all those lean, mean 25-year-old bicycle messengers charging up and down our hills, and this old man wants to show those whippersnappers a thing or two. And then there's the whole "spiritual" part, where I talk about feeling a "direct connection" to this simplified machine, my standard line being, "Riding my new bike feels the way I always knew riding a bike could feel." It's at this point that people realize that I really don't have a good answer.

Last week I was sitting in the sandpit near a wide, deep hole that children from all of the classes had been working on digging over the course of the preceding few days. Ben said, "Watch this, Teacher Tom," before toeing the edge of the hole, taking a moment to gather himself, then leaping across it.

"You jumped over that hole."

Then it was William's turn who also wanted to test himself against the hole.

Before long it was a game with a half dozen 5-year-olds taking turns. It reminded me, as many things do in our preschool, of similar games of jumping over road side drainage ditches as a boy. 

As the kids jumped, I recalled a moment earlier in the day when the kids in our 3-5's class were playing with one of our giant tubes and tennis balls. They'd stood the tube on its end, filled it with balls, then when the balls ran out, they tossed in a whicker basket. Luella had moved a block over to the tube to stand on as she peered inside, "Oh no, Teacher Tom, look!" She pointed into the tube. "I can't reach it!" She demonstrated by dangling her arm into the hole, but coming up short. "How are we going to get the basket out of there?"

It was an invitation that the other kids took up right away, each of them taking a turn standing on the block trying to reach the basket. At one point someone suggested they just lift up the tube in order to get at it from the bottom, but this idea was rejected out of hand, "No! If we do that the balls will get away! We have to reach it." They kept stacking more and more blocks in tackling the challenge they'd set for themselves, one they never accomplished, but that occupied them for a good 15 minutes.

It wasn't long before the kitty joined the basket.

It would be easier, more practical, to walk around or even through that hole in the sand pit. It would, of course, make more sense to just reach that whicker basket from the bottom, then refill the tube with the balls that escaped. However, I never once thought as I watched these efforts to ask the kids "Why?" because we all know, this is what play looks like, and play is why we're at school.

And honestly, that's the answer I ought to be giving people about my new bike. I'm not riding it to make life easier, because it doesn't. I'm not riding it because it's more efficient, because it's not. I'm not even riding it because it's safer, because, frankly, it isn't. I'm riding it because it's way more fun. I'm playing, and that should be the satisfactory stand-alone answer we give for our nonsense, whatever our age.

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The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

The world would be better if more adults engaged in all kinds of nonsense and doing things "just" for fun. Have fun on your bike!

Julian Levi said...

Its fun... I like your blog... and really enjoy... thanks for sharing.
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