When I arrive at my boxing class this week, there are a couple of little boys Esmé’s age running around. Their dad is teaching a session in the back room. And every once in a while they come racing through the front room class, darting between heavy bags. I do my best to avoid them—as is a matter of habit for me these days. Outside of children I have some vested interest in, I’ve taken to blocking little kids out. Honestly? It’s two things. The first is that I spend all day with a (ridiculously adorable, wonderful, amazing) kid…and I’d like a break.
The second is less easy to admit…but, here goes: I find it painful.
Maybe painful isn’t even the right word anymore…because it isn’t, strictly speaking, pain. But it is the feeling of the body remembering after unbearable pain. It is the same numb echo in the knuckles of my right hand after an hour spent punching the heavy bag. I feel that dull ache in the scar tissue in the spot where, eight years ago, my hand was sliced badly by broken glass. It is a reminder of damage done. It is a stiffness in a place that should give, a grating hesitation in the sinew.
And that flinching shadow of discomfort causes me to ever-so-slightly alter my posture as I work the bag, just as I alter the height of my line of sight enough to see only above the heads of the little boys as they run by.
When the end of class rolls around, I attempt handstand pushups with my teacher holding onto my feet for a few minutes. I see the blurs out of the corner of my eye as the little boys run through, but then remain in the doorway, watching, intrigued. When I tip myself back up to standing on my feet, I hear one say to the other, loudly, hoping, I think, that I will overhear: “I’m going to do a handstand!!”
The thing you have to know about me is that before Esmé I was someone who loved to play with little kids. Basically all little kids. I was the adult who would spend an entire party ignoring the other adults and instead run around with the kids, make funny faces, and carry on conversations in some make-believe land.
Now? Now I can read my daughter’s needs when her breathing pattern changes across the room. I can tease out the intentional gesture within the involuntary dancing of her limbs. I can make her laugh by breathing gently on the skin of her slender neck. I can interpret her whines and nods in order to discover which Yo Gabba Gabba episodes are acceptable this month. But imaginative play? Conversations with children about Frozen? Ideas for children’s gifts? I’m lost. Totally lost.
These days being around children my daughter’s age feels like entering an alien land. I look at their little bodies, poised for action. Their mouths, sharing a constant stream of comprehensible language. Their imaginations spilling out into the world as they play and draw and sing. And I feel completely overwhelmed. Most kids can feel this. So, I’m no longer the one who finds herself being tugged by the hand into some delightful children’s game.
But these boys? They want to play with me. It is so clear. They want to turn upside down with me. So we play for a bit–me explaining how to tap the wall with one foot to get their balance on their hands, while marveling at their unreal coordination, strength, and agility.
After we are done they find me again, “Can you do a cartwheel?” they ask conspiratorially.
“Yes,” I say.
“Do one? Now?”
I cartwheel in a space between the heavy bags. All three of us laugh as they try to mimic me.
We all move outside. I say goodbye to my classmates and teacher. And then I turn to the boys’ father and nod at the boys and say “They’re really fun,”
“Thanks,” he says and then glancing at me rubbing my right hand, “You’re wrapping your hand too tight.”
I say, “I have scar tissue from an old wound…it aches.”
He says, “You’re wrapping it too tight. It will slow the blood flow. The ache is the nerve coming back alive. It’s a good thing.”
I nod as I watch these tiny boys wave at me and then leap off the walls by the entrance…
And I think, You have no idea how right you are.