I know I am getting old because elementary school children now can almost outrun me. To be clear, they cannot outrun me. Yet. But they almost can. I only noticed it recently when I was running with some 6-year-old Japanese Grade 1 students on their school playground during lunch time recess. We were playing Tag (“onigoko”). The school playground is quite large and has a lot of running space. It features the usual depressingly bare field with trees relegated to the periphery, and a boundary fence hidden behind the trees. In one corner is a large mound of dirt, about four meters high and maybe twenty meters in diameter at its base. (Actually, it is a pile of waste car tires with a few tons of dirt covering them, and in turn covered by a growth of green grass, and even a tree growing on one side.) The children love climbing on it and running all around it. And I don’t blame them, because it’s really neat. In our Tag game the children habitually darted into the corner behind the small hill. And, frankly, they could easily outrun me on the hill, nimbly jumping on it, over it, and around it with the agility of squirrels. But when they returned to the flat bare surface of the playground I could overrun them in just a few paces with my longer legs. But I was shocked by their speed and agility on the hill/mound and my inability to reach them. My longer legs rather than my leg muscle power is what allowed me to overtake them on the flat ground. Pound-for-pound I have little doubt that they are stronger and faster than me. So I know I am getting old. If I try competing against 12-year-old Grade 6 children I might be humiliated.
I don’t like sports. Or, at least, organized competitive sports, and I have written about it at length on other occasions. Competition is an inappropriate model of human relationship, and organized sports are just the harnessed aggression of raw competition. No thanks. Competitive sports are how we dress up ugly barbarism in order to take it out to parties, to meet the President and have pictures taken. I’m an indoor, book reading, idea debating, letter writing kind of guy, not an outdoor Action Man. Outdoor Action Man is stinky with sweat and, being much heavier and taller than young children risks more significant personal injury if he falls down. I am increasingly wary of that. When I was young I scampered around like a billygoat, too. And, I tolerated discomfort and injury better then than I do now as an adult. Until university I could not bear the idea of swallowing a pill, so I always suffered through inconveniences like headaches without the benefit of Aspirin, thinking that a headache was natural and only a temporary affliction not to be fretted about too much. But as an adult who has to work to make money to survive, and to support a dependent family as well, I have developed zero tolerance for anything that might interfere with my ability to work and make money - headaches, injuries, interruptions of my schedule, etc. Symptomatic of my approaching dotage, I go up and down stairs these days with much greater care than ever before out of fear of tripping and falling (or being knocked over by running, jumping elementary school children). Of course, I am often walking around with an armload of teaching materials which can make walking more difficult and might somewhat explain my caution. While as a youngster I had my share of play-induced scrapes and bruises and thought nothing of it, my current medical condition makes healing of any skin abrasions a long, painful inconvenience. So I am careful to avoid scratches.
I compare this Japanese school ground mound to a big feature of my own elementary school memories. When I was in elementary school in Guelph we had the “snake pit” to play in, an over-grown and fallow, privately-owned lot adjacent to the school ground which, as its name indicates, was inhabited by a lot of garter snakes. It was against school rules to go into that bush, but that didn’t stop anyone. We regularly entered and rummaged around like feral rabbits.