a question of sticks—part 1 (the back story)

In my 11 years of teaching (all at the same school) one of the most frequently contested topics of conversation, agitator of playground squabbles, and item most likely to be listed on a faculty meeting agenda was that of STICKS.

IMG_0785 The school property includes a large wooded acreage that beckoned to the students like a candy store. 

Sticks were the starting point of many a playground altercation; it was tiring, to put it mildly . . . the tears, the shouting, the hurt feelings . . . all over sticks.  (And that was just the students.  😉

For a time (actually many a-times), there was  a “no stick” rule.  This was frustrating in itself as different teachers and aides enforced the rule with varying degrees of severity.  Each recess brought the frequent bellow from the adult watchers  (yes, I was one of them) of : “Put the sticks down!”  By the end of recess we had repeated this directive so many times that we usually resorted to a sharp whistle blow and sign language for “put the sticks down”.

IMG_0319Stick users could be divided into three categories: Fort Builders, Warriors, and Aimless Wanderers.

Fort Builders constructed massive structures that often resembled beaver dams, and used them for playing Little House on the Prairie or versions of Indians/Settlers or War.  Generally a peaceable lot (except when playing games involving battle), fort builders wanted to erect their space, use it, and return to it the next recess and find it just as they had left it.  This was a rare occurrence as several other classes usually had their recesses in the same space during the intervening time and had used the forts for their own means and purpose which, of course, necessitated massive “renovations”.  Thus, a fort builder’s class time between recesses was generally spent worrying about whether or not their fort would still be standing at the next break.  Their recess often began with the cry of: “Mrs. [insert exasperated teacher’s name here], the sixth graders wrecked our fort!”  They then spent the majority of their time reclaiming the sticks from “their” fort, engaging in heated arguments over said stick ownership, rebuilding, and cursing the sixth graders under their breath.

Warriors, as the name suggests, had one thing on their mind: battle.  From the first seconds of recess their main objective was to engage in hand-to-hand combat with sticks (although against the rules), reenact movies and video games using the sticks, and steal coveted sticks from the fort builders while attempting to draw them into battle.  Warriors usually each have a stick that is prized above all others—they know its every intricacy, mark, and bulge, and can identify other warriors’ sticks as well.  A good Warrior was highly amusing to watch: he exploded out of the building at recess and shot like a rocket to his prized stick’s hiding place.  The first 30 seconds of recess were charged with focus, intensity, and baited breath as sticks emerged from hedges, crevices under rocks, and other nooks and crannies unknown to adults (and hopefully those pesky sixth graders).  As recess came to a close, Warriors were usually the last to line up in an effort to outlast others in finding an undetectable hiding place for their stick, or in a heroic attempt to delay long enough to smuggle it past the unsuspecting teacher to the relative safety of the classroom.

Aimless Wanderers were a peaceable, yet pitiful little group.  Members meandered for most of the recess alone or in pairs, lamenting their emotional ups and downs of the day; all the while dragging a discarded stick behind them, sometimes beheading a dandelion in an outburst of feeling, or stabbing the air to emphasize a point.  Characteristically, Aimless Wanderers usually abandoned their sticks as soon as the recess-ending whistle blew.  However, if the Aimless Wanderer was a disgruntled or disillusioned former Warrior, they would hide their stick out of principle.

Stick antics also extended outside school hours between siblings at home and friends at sleepovers.  At one time we had separate “stick buckets” for Jr. and Bug at our house in an attempt to avoid arguments.

IMG_0778If you’ve read this far, thanks for hanging in there with me as I’ve rambled—it’s been surprisingly cathartic.  If you come back for part 2 tomorrow,  I’ll be writing about how this whole scenario impacts my reality in a far more personal way:

Spud has discovered sticks.

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