Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"This Time You'll Win"

When I was a boy, we owned a game called  Animal Twister, which my mother saved in her attic until I brought it into school few years ago. Like with traditional Twister, you start by spreading a vinyl sheet on the floor and removing your shoes. The "caller" has a stack of cards with pictures of animals that correspond to pictures on the vinyl sheet. Then you try to be the first to "capture" the animal using your hands and feet.

I keep a close eye on the game to make sure the competition doesn't get out of hand, but I've found that contrary to my adult fears, this game more often than not brings out the best in the children.

Normally, I serve as the "caller," but sometimes I  turn the duties over to one of the kids like I did a couple of years back with my friend Audrey. At one point as she was calling the cards, Phillip became frustrated with his lack of success and very quickly went into a mini tantrum, rolling about on the floor and crying. He found his way over by me, where he squeezed his body between my back and the a shelf where I stroked his shoulder as the rest of the kids continued the game. After a few minutes he decided he wanted to rejoin the game.

Face still red and wet, he didn't assume an alert ready position at the edge of the mat like the other kids, but rather stood there looking a bit hopeless. Before Audrey could make her call, he said rather pathetically, "I want to get one."

And I, rather cold-heartedly, answered, "You'll have to do your best."

He replied, "But I won't win." I was going to suggest that he might like to play somewhere else for awhile when Audrey took over.

She walked over to Phil, got right up close to him, and said, "This time you'll win. I just know it."

"No I won't," he answered, starting to cry again.

She said, "Yes, you will," then turning to the other competitors she commanded, "Everyone just stay where you are. It's Phil's turn." Turning back to Phil, getting right up close to make sure he heard her, "Okay? I'll call the card and everyone will let you have a turn all by yourself. Okay?"

He nodded. 

She then returned to her spot and called, "Cow! Hand!"

Phil stood at the edge of the mat scanning for the proper picture. When it became apparent that he simply was still too upset or feeling under pressure or whatever to identify the proper animal, Audrey quietly walked over to the cow and pointed it out with her toe. As the rest of us stood by, he walked slowly across the mat and touched the cow with his toe. Audrey whispered, "Hand! Use your hand!" Phil bent down and touched it with his hand. "Alright! You did it! You win!" and she handed him the card.

When he returned to his position at the edge of the mat, he was smiling through his wet face.

The next call was one of our usual free-for-alls, after which Phil complained, "I didn't win."

Audrey said, "That's okay. You won last time. Sometimes you don't win, sometimes you do." She then orchestrated another round in which Phil got a card. "See look," she said, handing him his card, "You won that time."

By now all the rest of the players were in on the system, alternating between competitive turns and turns manufactured for Phil to get a card. In fact during those turns, the other players began to help him as well, pointing out the pictures to him. He still had moments of frustration, once starting to walk away, but Audrey followed him and talked him back into the game, coaxing and encouraging.

Lukas had been playing the game for quite some time, had more or less memorized the mat, and was winning most of the other rounds. For the kids other than Phil and Lukas, it wasn't about winning the cards as much as the stocking-footed, bodying-bumping free-for-alls.

At one point, Audrey said, "Phil, you have seven cards! That's a lot! You're really doing good!" Lukas replied, "I have seven, too." Audrey got close and whispered to him, "Don't feel bad, I'm just trying to make Phil feel good." She then kept track of the two boys cards in her head, alternating between cheering for Phil and assuring Lukas, who became her teammate in keeping the card counts even.

After the round was complete, Phil announced he was going to do "something else." I followed him from the field of play as the game resumed behind me under Audrey's leadership. I asked, "Are you feeling better?"

"Yes, but I didn't really win."

I said, "You got a lot of cards."

"I did. Those guys were really nice to me."

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