On Thursday, my husband and I drove Meelyn and Aisling and my friend Margaret's kids (Kate, Lora and Alex) down to an evening of volleyball fun sponsored by one of the families in our homeschool group. This was Aisling's first official teen event and she was a combination of excited and nervous, especially when we got there and it turned out that most of the people there were teenage boys who loomed over her like corn stalks over a field mouse.
I have to say, it was a rare spectacle to observe Aisling being both quiet and bashful. If they could only have seen her two hours previously when I was yelling, "AISLING SHUT UP" as she attempted to make Hershey run around the coffee table in time to the martial beat of "Stars and Stripes Forever," which she was honking loudly on a nose kazoo.
Meelyn was also behaving inscrutably. The teenagers chose up sides by numbering off and Meelyn was the second server on her team. My husband and I were seated on the host's deck watching the game and we were considerably surprised to see Meelyn gently thump the ball over the net in a high arc, totally unlike her usual centimeters-above-the-net shrieking smash. We traded a look with one another and my husband shrugged one shoulder.
The other team was unable to return the ball in spite of the easy serve, so it went back to Meelyn. Again with mellow serve, so placid and tender it was practically burbling baby talk as it sailed over the net with a lacy bonnet on. The opposing team did manage to volley it back and ended up scoring a point, so Meelyn was retired.
"What was that all about?" I asked my husband.
"I don't know," he said thoughtfully, watching Mee as she jogged up to her place at the net. "Maybe she's...out of practice?"
"I was kind of hoping she'd, you know. Feed it to them." I cast a glance at the teenage boys on the opposing team, all swagger and bombast, as if they'd just scored a point off Sean Scott.
We were similarly nonplussed when she served the second time, again lobbing an easy ball over the net, much to our mystification. When the game ended, my husband called her over.
"What's the deal with those baby serves?" he asked, smiling at her sweet face with its bright eyes and pink cheeks, a faint glowing sheen on her forehead. "You're being awfully easy on them."
She beamed at us. "Daddy," she whispered, leaning closer. "I don't want to hurt them."
He laughed. "Their bodies or their pride?"
"Both!" she said, and grinned over her shoulder as she went back to the court.
Aisling, however, had no use for such social niceties. When one of the boys on Mee's team charged into her place to return the ball that she was getting ready to bump back over the net, knocking her flat to the ground in the process, Aisling was outraged when he didn't offer her a hand to help her back to her feet. The wind was slightly knocked out of her and the game stopped while she got up. "Geeeeshhh, be a gentleman and help her up," shouted one of the boys on Aisling's team.
He didn't though, and let me state that while I think helping her back up would have been nice, this is not an evil boy. He's really very nice. He was probably embarrassed that he'd lurched into her, and being an awkward teenager, he got a little flustered. I have made my share of social blunders, including standing with a bowl of potato salad and vainly trying to hold back snorting giggles when a retired general's very dignified wife fell off a picnic table's bench onto the grass back during my days as a camp counselor. So I felt very sorry for him and at least Meelyn wasn't sixty-five years old and wearing a summer dress, is all I can say.
But Aisling took it amiss. She had noticed the fact that, while the boy was very enthusiastic about the game, he was not a born volleyball player. So she took it into her curly head to teach him a sharp lesson when she came up to serve.
"I aimed it at him," she said to us later, scowling under her lowered brows with the same look she used to give me when I tried to feed her oatmeal without bananas in it some twelve years back. "I sent it right to him every single time and I scored points off him because he mowed MeeMee down and he didn't say sorry."
Oh, children learn all the time, every day, with everything they do. Sometimes it's just a bit hard to know what they're learning. And maybe why.
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