The Jump

Miss Na-ta-lie! My name is three syllables, enunciated long and clear, and he’s said it three times by the time I look over, catch his gaze. I’m sitting on a red playground mushroom- balanced two feet above the springy outdoor flooring. Twenty other six year olds surround me, filling the playground with their playing, their yelling, and their energy.

He’s standing on the playground equipment, feet rooted, knees bent, ready to launch himself onto the monkey bars. Last week, his classmate begged that I help her cross the bars. Her weight on my arm, she melted to a puddle of defeat, and exaggerated helplessness next to me. Temporarily laying aside my insistence that they Practice! Give it a try by yourself! You’re getting better already! I had stepped over to the blue bars, allowed her to wrap lanky legs around my waist as she passed her small hands from one bar to another, all the way across.

This week, she’s next to me here on the ground, taking turns “dunking” with three other boys. They run, jump, slam imaginary basketballs through the raised playground equipment. Sometimes they take turns and sometimes they don’t, little bodies in green and khaki school uniforms colliding, falling together to the sound of my cautionary statements and vague questions as to their welfare.

And above them all, he calls my name, standing there on by the monkey bars.

A scream rings out on the other side of the slide, and I’m temporarily distracted as I watch the other teacher console, then send the injured party on his way once more, tears still streaking down his face as he runs off. Over by the monkey bars, though, he knows he’s lost my attention, and I hear my name once more, over and again.

I have to nod three times, my eyebrows raised in eager anticipation, before he’s sure I’m watching, sure that I won’t glance away in the moment of his glory. I force myself to ignore the screeches around me, the chaotic sounds of twenty children releasing the movement they’ve restrained during their seven-hour school day. I forget them, don’t hear them, tune them out- just for this moment- and I watch him.

He jumps then. Hands outstretched, strong, lean legs launching him into the air. My heart races, in the split second that he dangles in the air, and I barely stop the call of Careful! that lodges in my throat. But then he’s grabbed a bar. The fourth one out, his jump has landed him in the exact middle of the tall blue obstacle.

His hands wrap firmly around the bar, fingernails glowing pink-white with the effort. He hangs there, legs swinging under him still from the force of his movement. He looks over at me, then, and I’m so glad I haven’t looked away, so glad my attention’s not been pulled from him, rushed away to the solution of the dire emergencies that frequently befall the youngest of children.

He looks over, and I like to think that the joy, the accomplishment, the thrill of the jump, that I see in his face is reflected in my own. He’s grinning, open mouth revealing spaces where four teeth should be. He’s happy, his contentment untainted by the bubbling chaos that surrounds us both. I laugh then, a laugh that is happiness in sound form, and nod my approval of his daring feat.

Good job, smart boy! Well done.

~Natalia

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