When I was around ten, I discovered, all on my own, the pure joy of hitting a ball against a wall and batting it back again and again and again. I could amuse myself for hours doing this.
I actually remember wondering why it was so much fun (I was an odd little girl) but the wonder happened at a different level to the fun. The fun had a life of its own. I also remember feeling a need to keep quiet about it, for fear someone would tell me I had to stop.
It’s a talent children have. They can find fun in an empty box, a puddle of rain, a pile of leaves, a tent made from a bedsheet. They don’t need many props: a hat is enough to construct a world; a wheel suffices for an ocean liner. Imagination and a simple delight in motion, rhythm, repetition and pattern does the rest.
My childhood came back to me in a rush a few days ago when I came out of the house and saw this bottle hanging down from the roof on a long, long string (actually a set of strings, all carefully tied together).
What a sweet sight. I stood there smiling, suddenly able to make sense of the gleeful shouts I had heard from my bedroom the day before; the thwack, thwack, thwack sound that kept repeating as Vijay and Lakshi swung the bottle back and forth to each other.
The game amused them all week. They filled the bottle with water; they filled it with pebbles; they filled it with sand. When one finally disintegrated, they would find another and start again. They varied the length of the string; they varied the size of the bottle. They were not experimenting or observing or taking notes, yet that is precisely what they were doing. Maybe in five years, they will need what they learned. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never. Who knows? Who cares?
I love the busy purposefulness of childhood, the self-appointed tasks which make no sense to adults but which are frightfully important to children: the towers that must be built, the tunnels that cry out to be dug, the bottles that simply must be swung gaily from the roof, on a red string tied in multiple knots if at all possible. Thank God they keep doing it, from one generation to the next, no matter how smart we think we have become, no matter how shiny the new toys we give them, no matter how much we try to make them learn things.
They’re learning. Weight. Balance. Serve and return. Black holes. Red string. All they need to know.
(Photo of little girl by Erin Steigerwalt)