To 8-year-old girls at camp, underwater handstand competitions are monumental events. Judges can’t be just anyone who would throw out a perfect 10. They themselves must know how to do an excellent underwater handstand, have a keen eye and be extra meticulous.
Each prepubescent girl plunges into the water, her ankles and toes extended, her innocent lungs filled with purified breaths of air.
She reemerges from the water with a proud smile and waits earnestly for her handstand score.
“Nine,” her counselor says. The girl rejoices. She is wholesomely happy.
Then, after a few dozen handstands each, the girls dry their small, curve-free bodies and return to the grass.
Now, as a counselor of said young girls, my own celebrations during past handstand competitions seem silly. The numbers one through 10, numbers that meant so much to me at the time, were given for what I thought was how pointed my toes were or how long I held my breath under a sea of chlorine, when in reality, they were always just numbers.
They then ask to play a game known as “Dead Worms.”
Here’s how “Dead Worms” works: each girl lies down on the grass and tries her best not to move as counselors poke and prod. Naturally, the one that stays still the longest, wins.
Amazingly, the girls are able to withstand tickles, pinches and even light punches in order to win. Their bodies and minds are impervious to the outside world. The game is their only focus.
As each girl strains to keep still and avoid the laughter building up from my tickling, I ask myself, “How can this game of lying on the grass in silence possibly be fun?”
How can it keep 8-year-old girls entertained for such a length of time? How are they so skillfully able to block out everything around them? And most importantly, how and when did my equation for fun require more than my own imagination?
Once every girl successfully wins a round of “Dead Worms,” we move on to another game. In this one, everyone’s feet are in a circle. One girl is chosen the leader, and taps each foot as she sings, “Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?”
The girl’s foot that was tapped last gets to choose how many pieces. The leader then counts out the number of pieces the girl chose, as she goes around tapping each foot. The last foot landed on is out, thus, the last one still in the circle, wins.
As the myriad of brightly colored toenails quickly becomes 10, everyone continues to watch with fascination.
Sadly for me, this game is now obvious. If you choose two pieces, the second foot to the right is out. Three pieces, the third foot to the right is out, and so on.
Are these 8-year-old girls blind to such simplicity, or is it just irrelevant to them?
The game is done and I take one of their hands in mine as the rest of the group follows. We head down to the pool to swim once more before it is time to go home. As expected, the girls ask again to have a handstand contest. I think for a moment, and jump in.