Gym class is the only place I can remember feeling so ashamed. I stretched myself mightily once and went to a friend’s house to work an aerobics routine for a song from the radio. My friend got sick and my grade six self had to perform the routine alone. Horrific was the agony.
Gym class was also one of the few places so many things were new. A track to run, hurdles to leap, and a rope to the ceiling to climb hand over hand. Trampolines, parallel bars, balance beams.
I looked forward to gym class and I raised a little bit of trouble. Most of the school day, my sense of humour was restrained. At home, I carried a lot of responsibility and caused no trouble beyond the occasional smart comment. But I knew of no expectations specific to the preacher’s daughter regarding gym class. There (and anywhere there was a substitute teacher) I let loose another side. It was, I discovered, extremely relaxing to be bad.
Twenty laps, the teacher would say. I got to the gym first, so as to begin modifications.
Time for some math, I would yell out as we ran. 2 x 2 is 4, plus 6 is 10. We’re half way there everybody.
Nobody ever argued. Sit-ups and push ups liked math too.
Mandatory group showers insulted my sense of decency and public decorum.
Wrap your towel around you, splash water on your shoulders, and go to the bathroom, I told my friends. Come out again when people are leaving the showers. Works every time.
I can’t comment on the blessings incurred by my gym/substitute teachers, but being bad was good for what ailed me. A needed respite from the seriousness of life. Getting caught and extra running didn’t bother me, it made me laugh more.
At a dinner with our school choir once, three teachers got into a discussion about me. Two insisted that I was an angel. A frequent substitute teacher named Mrs. Sims weighed in more to the devil side of things.
“You must be thinking of someone else,” my defenders insisted. “She’s wonderful.”
Mrs. Sims snorted. “Call her over and ask her yourself.”
Although we never said it, Mrs. Sims and I liked each other. She was gruff, smart and not remotely intimidated by me. I enjoyed a good laugh and was staunchly opposed to completing anything smelling of busy work assigned by absent teachers. This put us on opposite sides of the law. It wasn’t personal.
“She’s not exaggerating,” I told the other two teachers.
“But you’re so good,” they said still struggling to believe.
“Sometimes I’m not,” I said.
“Told ya,” said Mrs. Sims.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Maybe just to say that I’m teaching some gym classes these days and the kids make me smile. Gyms are good places to not be perfect, to go a little crazy and to run it out of your system.