Dear 11-year-old Jane Kelley

Hey, you --

Feels kind of weird to be writing this letter. I still spend a lot of time hanging out with you. But kid-Jane didn't know that grown-up-Jane will be mining her miseries for story material. So thank you for that! You help me in other ways besides being the basis for my writing career. Trying to understand the roots of kid-Jane's sorrows will cause me to be more empathetic to other people's suffering. Eventually. 

You don't know that, though. Although you did know that when a bad thing happened, you could get through it by thinking how it would make a good story someday. There was one so embarrassing, I don't know if you could learn much from it.

It's about a red rubber ball.

Gym class, as it was called then, was never good for Jane of any age. No matter what the activity. Rope climbing. Gymnastics. Square dancing. Push-ups. All were opportunities to humiliate you. Then the teacher introduced a unit called Rhythmic Gymnastics. It would involve dancing with balls. I know you thought you could handle this. You were creative. This was not competitive. And it didn't require any upper body strength. You even got to create a routine with your friends. 

But on the day of performance, the ball slipped from your nervous hands. It rolled across the floor. Each time you got close to picking it up, you kicked it. It rolled farther and farther away. And your classmates all rolled on the floor laughing. This humiliation felt so much worse because it wasn't even a real sport. You had failed at something ridiculous.

Dear 11-year-old Jane. You suffered for many many years with the idea that you were not athletic. That you were hopelessly clumsy. You stayed away from any activities in which you might have enjoyed being physical. Because you told yourself that you couldn't do them. 

No one ever told you that you just hadn't found your sport yet. No one ever said you would get better if you just kept trying. 

But you will find that sport. And you will get better. Because you love playing it.

Tennis anyone? 

Jane Kelley is the author of many MG novels -- including Nature Girl, where her character learns the valuable lesson that anyone who can walk can hike part of the Appalachian Trail. Jane also plays tennis, bikes, kayaks, canoes, swims, and hikes. None of which she learned in gym class.


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