Last night I learned something very interesting.
I learned that my body can actually remember what it felt like to be ten years old. And I learned that the morning after it has had this wonderful memory, my body can experience what it will feel like to be ninety nine.
Last night I was one of four teachers who volunteered to host a sleepover at our school. Its part of an annual auction that the parents run to raise money for the school. Its a big job, because we arrive at work at 7 AM on Friday and we stay until 8 AM on Saturday. It can seem like a really long night, but it can also be an absolute blast. I have only done it once before, a few years ago, and sort of decided that I was too old to participate any more.
After all, I’m pushing sixty, and out of shape. I figured that all the twenty and thirty somethings could handle the sleepover. My auction donation is usually something easier, like a home made dinner or a bread baking lesson.
This year year, though, they were short one chaperone, so I let myself be talked into helping out.
It was a long week, and I was tired by the time the thirteen kids arrived at 6:30 Friday evening. I thought I’d be able to serve the pizza and then just sort of watch everybody run around for a while.
But the kids had other ideas. They decided that it would be fabulous fun to have a big game of “capture the flag” inside the building. Now, you have to understand that our building houses two schools with over 1,000 students. It has a huge gym, a cafeteria, two music rooms, a big sprawling library and a multi-purpose room filled with tables, sinks and ovens. At 8 pm on a spring night, as the sun set, it was a huge challenge to play “Capture the Flag” over three floors of a giant, empty building.
The kids recruited the four adults, and we broke into teams. There were dozens of complicated rules that I don’t really understand, like “No jailbreaks!” and “Seven minutes of captivity!” I pretended that I understood, but mostly I just rushed around with everybody else, sneaking up the back stairs, giggling as we peeked around corners and trying to tag the guys on the other team.
At first I thought I would just trail along behind, acting like the aging observer that I see myself being. But my younger colleagues were all in, racing around the empty hallways, screaming right along with the kids. I started to get caught up in the game, especially as the night wore on, and the darkness outside made the bright lights of the building seem cozy and safe. I started to relax and I started to run.
There were moments last night when I felt like I was in a crazy surreal dream. At one point I found myself freed from “jail” by the tag of a little boy, who then grabbed me by the hand and yelled “run!!!” I could feel my sneakers pounding down the hallway, but I couldn’t believe that it was really me, running full speed down the hallway past the gym.
A little bit later in the night, I found myself creeping silently down the back stairs, hoping to find the hidden “flag”. When I stepped into the hallway, I glanced behind me. There was a player on the other team, a beautiful grinning girl, ready to tag me. Now, I know this girl very well! She’s been in my class all year and her humor and sass and vibrant personality have made her one of my absolute favorites.
But there she was, ready to tag me and send me to jail! My heart jumped and I let out a shriek that made us both jump. Then I took off running as hard as I could, careening around the corner to my “safe” area as if the FBI was on my tail, instead of a little girl with long silky golden hair and a glorious giggle. As I skidded to a stop, I couldn’t contain my laughter. We stood on opposite sides of the invisible line, my student and I, face to face and laughing like fools. “OK, that was awkward!”, she said, “I just chased my teacher down the hall!”
There were dozens of moments like that one all night. Moments when I found myself running around like a kid, laughing out loud, trying to play with a hula-hoop, putting on sparkly nail polish, baking cookies with a bunch of girls. Slathering on green face mask with my pal to make the kids smile.
And what I loved was that my legs remembered how to run like a maniac. My arms remembered how to pump for extra speed. My waist even remembered how to swing a hula-hoop, although it wasn’t very successful at recreating that particular experience! We finally wound down and went to sleep around 1 AM and I sprawled on a deflating air mattress in the music room, surrounded by my friends and the sleeping children.
I woke up at 6AM with every muscle in my body screeching in protest. No one else was awake as I slowly eased myself to my knees and then to an upright position. I could practically hear the sound of my joints and muscles trying to unkink as I straightened my spine. I pulled on my fuzzy red robe and stepped gently over the mounded shapes of the kids, and made my slow way up the stairs to wash up and get changed. I planned to make a pot of strong coffee and find the ibuprofin in my desk drawer.
As I crossed the empty lobby, I thought about how great it had felt to run full speed again, even if it was only down a short hallway. I thought about how much pure fun it was to scream with the kids in the big echoing building.
I smiled to myself as my bare feet padded through the empty darkness of the cafeteria to my classroom.