“Mira, Mira!” I am being pulled by the tiny hand of an enthused 7-year-old boy, Matias. This is his room, his domain. His shelves are lined with board games, colorful books, and of course toys of all kinds. The layout of the room is typical: bed, shelves, dresser and a desk. I notice a theme of cars and airplanes. This boy has a daredevil side. I can already tell.
I am here to tutor him in English. At seven he can understand a little English, but speaking is more difficult. After almost everything I say, he resorts to “Que?” looking up at me with scrunched eyebrows. I respond back with the same question trying to understand what exactly he is saying. It’s obvious we are at about the same beginner level of learning a language. Nonetheless, I’d give us an A for effort.
So what does one do when they are put in a room with a rowdy 7-year-old and communication is few and far between? You play. And in that department, I am an expert (Coming from a family of 6 kids and a mother who owns a daycare).
He signals me over to his foosball table. Futbol, of course, a hot topic for any Spanish male. “Vamos a jugar,” he sputters. He queues me to help him lift the table to the center of his room. Standing at hardly 4 feet tall with a slim body frame, the weight of the table sways him as he gives it his all. His chocolate brown eyes look up at me with excitement as a genuine grin comes across his face. I can read his mind, “Tutoring in English, nah, I’d rather play.” In Spanish, he explains the rules of the game. I attempt to throw in some English vocab, but have no idea how far it sinks in.
“3,2,1,” the ball makes a loud drop and signals the start of the game. Before I can even grasp the cold, hard handles, he scores a goal. His hands may be small, but they are sure and coordinated. They are like lightning. I stand, stunned. He begins to laugh. Alright, I can’t let him think I’m that bad. The ball drops again, and the players click as they come into contact with the ball. A battle royale emerges. I somehow manage to score. He is just as stunned as I. We go again. He scores. I score. He scores. I score. He scores. And then he scores again.
The pride is evident in his open-mouthed grin. Although, he states that his grandpa is better. It is 9 to 5, game point. Candy apple red vs. licorice black. I am not holding up too well for the red team. The ball swishes back and forth, clicking and clacking. After a couple of minutes, Matias maneuvers his back players to kick the ball with force, ricocheting off the side. Of course, my defense delays and my goalie is too late. Victory. I motion a high five and he reciprocates, although not understanding this strange foreign gesture. Woops.
We move the table back and I can see his mind spinning as he calculates what to do next. He asks if I like to jump, “salto.” “Yes,” I reply. I’m confused, does he mean on a trampoline, or in general, or what? Before I can finish my thought, he is on the bed springing up and down laughing all the while. I’m wondering if his mom would think this is ok, but I don’t have the vocabulary or heart to ask. I watch as he jumps from the bed to the floor, banging with each landing. Daredevil, I knew it. He asks me something I don’t understand. I try to pull out my Spanish 1 skills, but fail. Next thing I know, he is at my feet pulling my boots off. “Is this really happening?” I think to myself. No I can’t. I try to explain, but he insists. I cannot believe I am about to jump on this boys bed, what about the English lesson? I think I’ll just do one bounce and call it good. I resort back to my inner child. Something as simple as jumping on a bed can bring so much joy. The bed jumping continues and somehow evolves into doing little tricks mid-air as we launch ourselves off the bed.
I’m up. I’ve got a good trick planned out. I leap up, but too high. Uh oh. I manage to hit my head on the light spiraling me downward. “”Kerplunk!” There is no landing. I am down for the count; good think I have good cushioning back there. Instantly, that prompts us both to roll on the floor hysterically laughing. Some English teacher I am.
We finally settle down. As our play time comes to an end, his mom walks in. He begs her, “Un poco mas por favor.” I may not have won the game or mastered the art of jumping on a bed, but to me that was a victory. Mission complete.
Many authors, and people in general, raise the argument that, “People from different cultures are undoubtedly different. At the end of the day, we are not all the same.” People, yes. But, I am willing to make the argument that children are, in fact, the same worldwide. They are simple beings with simple needs. They live each day without an agenda or interior motives. Children are experts in simply being. When it comes to play, they are masterminds. And all kids alike, no matter what culture or nationality, like to play.