When I was in fourth grade, a most momentous even occurred: physical education, known as PE, was begun at my elementary school. No longer would we soft, flabby kids be allowed to simply study, do art and sing – we would now be active as well.
And so, twice a week we went to P.E. It would be a gross underestimate to say that I hated it. I always tended towards the clumsy, inspiring phrases like “graceful as an ox” from my family. Additionally, as a child who enjoyed playing piano and reading, I had had precious little no instruction in how to hold a baseball bat, how to play kickball, etc. etc. To be expected to suddenly know these things was really terrifying to me, a kids used to knowing things and doing well at them.
These were also the days when eams were still chosen. I remember the irony of going from first chosen for the spelling bee to last chosen (maybe 20 minutes later) for the P.E. team. In fact, I often wasn’t just the last chosen – I was last plus “Oh no! We have to get her?” (bullying hadn’t been invented as an offense in the ’70s).
Ah, the memories: one year, the elementary P.E. teacher wrote my name on the “twinkie list” for being slow at an obstacle course. One other kid made the list too, but that kid was on it because he was the class clown and tried to do it slowly. I was truly trying my best!
I also remember standing in my usual assignment, outfield, during a soccer game and praying the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I remember repeating the words to the hymn Count Your Blessings and considering how much worse a lot of other people in the world surely had it.
Thankfully, in high school our P.E. grade didn’t count towards final GPA – thank goodness. One thing we were scored on was rope climbing. I remember looking at the rope swinging from the impossibly high gym ceiling and just laughing at the ludicrous possibility of me ever climbing that (I got a D for “effort”).
Jr. High and high school P.E. weren’t made any better by the ridiculous uniforms we had to wear. They were one piece stretchy knit and didn’t even look good on the mostly skinny teenage bodies. They zipped up the front and had navy blue shorts for the legs and narrow horizontal navy and white stripes for the top. They were sleeveless, and in junior high I remember us being required to try ours on and parade in front of the teacher on the stage so she could make sure the armholes weren’t too revealing. We also had to embroider our name on the front legs of the shorts. Classy!
Beginning in junior high or high school, I kept a scrap of paper in my room with the number of P.E. classes remaining all written down. Each day, I would cross off a number. I believe that small act gave me more satisfaction than any calculus problem I ever solved.
So: have at it in the comments. Did you like gym, endure it without a lot of thought, or was it the bane of your existence as well?