I was reminded this week of an incident that happened when I was in 1st or 2nd grade.
It was a lovely fall or spring day in the Deep South, USA and we were having PE/Gym class outside. We first ran around the track, an exercise for which I did not care at all, and then we were lined up in two lines on the far side of the gym. There were two chairs a little way away from the fronts of the two lines.
At this point, we were each handed a balloon. I began to play with my balloon, by bopping it back and forth against my hand while tightly holding the tied opening. I loved the sound it made and the feel of the balloon bouncing against my hand. I was made to stop, of course, although I had already missed the instructions for whatever we were doing.
I was pretty far back in my line because I had been one of the last to finish running around the track, but was absolutely horrified when the gym teacher blew his whistle and the first people in the line ran down to the chairs and began bouncing up and down on their balloons.
The pops that followed weren’t wholly unexpected to me, but they were more painful than I had anticipated.
I clutched the tied end of my balloon tightly in my fist and fought back the tears. I wanted to tell the balloon that I didn’t want to hurt it and that I was scared of the popping sound. But I had been in school long enough by now to know that talking to a balloon would lead to a great deal of teasing so I wrote the words in my head instead, trusting that my balloon would understand.
When it got to be my turn, I tried to refuse, but I was unable to articulate why and the teachers (both the gym teacher and my classroom teacher) insisted that I at least try.
Resigned, I halfheartedly and very gently bounced on my poor balloon.
The teachers instructed me to bounce harder, but I was terrified of popping my balloon. I knew it was going to hurt me and I didn’t want to kill my balloon either.
The tears, by now, were streaming down my face, and I gave up. I took my balloon and went back to the cluster of students where I stood on the outside of the group.
The other students ensured that I fully understood the fact that I had ruined the game and caused my team to lose the race. This would cause additional issues for me with the other students for a while, but we already had issues so this one more issue wasn’t terribly noticeable.
Most importantly I had avoided the added pain of popping my balloon and was allowed to hold onto my balloon for the rest of the gym class, which consisted solely of one more round of “pop the balloon relay,” in which I was not forced to participate.
I don’t believe they let me take the balloon back to my regular classroom because it would’ve been distracting, but still, it had been a partial victory.