What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?
Back in September, I was met with the opportunity to become a volunteer parent "trainer" for Reina's field hockey team. A reminder that Reina is six years old and to say that the kids in her age group are actually playing field hockey would be a stretch. Nevertheless, the kids do gather together twice a week at a highly-regarded Dutch training field and spend an hour rotating among four distinct exercise areas all with the goal of getting the kids acquainted with what it's like to connect ball to stick and to play well with others. Some kids pick it up faster than others, of course, but it seems that most of them enjoy the experience of running around and playing with peers.
After all, it's only 40 - 50 six-year-olds running around with sticks. What could possibly go wrong?
I jest (mostly). The actual trainers are very good at what they do and mostly manage to keep order in the chaos as the kids venture from one exercise to the next. I'm grateful for that -- having never played a day of field hockey in my life, I wasn't entirely certain back in September whether I would be of any use on the field. Nonetheless, I agreed to do it and have been attending practices with Reina twice a day every week since the early Fall (with a well-deserved break over the Winter). As I'm still learning the language, I'd been partnering with another Dutch-speaking parent during each practice so that I can get accustomed to working with the kids, the words being used most frequently and learn more about the sport myself.
Fast forward seven months and I know have my own stick and have become increasingly knowledgable about the sport and about how to connect with the kids and get them to do what's being asked. This past Saturday came a moment that I wasn't entirely prepared for but that I knew would come eventually. As there weren't enough volunteer trainers available that morning, I was thrust in to the role of managing one of the exercises entirely on my own. I did my best to communicate and explain what was happening and was proud of how I put my knowledge and experience to use. Nonetheless, there are certain words (probably more than I realize) that quickly expose me as a non-native and someone still trying to learn the language. I became acutely aware of this, as some of the kids took it upon themselves to let me know it and to laugh at me as I spoke some of those words. The kids then went so far as to mock the way I was saying the words and that happened with nearly each of the four separate groups of kids I worked with that day. Some of the kids appeared downright baffled about how I was speaking, others who speak a little bit of English seemed to understand me and then there were some that just started laughing and imitating me.
A reminder that these are mostly six year olds who (as I'm learning every day) do not yet have the capacity to think about what they're doing. They feel something and act on it. Somehow, though, it still left me feeling lonely and vulnerable as I was genuinely trying to get my point across and motivate these kids to do the exercise. I'm fully aware that there are a lot of variables at play here and that, as a result of what I experienced during my childhood, I'm likely predisposed to feeling targeted when it comes to groups of children. All that said, it was a reminder of how quickly things can begin to feel cruel and it really took a lot of effort on my end to push past those moments and motivate the kids to keep playing.