by Erin Venuti ’20
Janie wasn’t popular—except for the third week of fifth grade, when she brought a Chinese jump rope to recess. Her mom had found it during their annual summer trip to Cape Cod, in a store that sold toys, overpriced greeting cards, and platters plastered with the zip codes of surrounding tourist towns. Janie’s mom thought it would be a fun game to play with her friends at recess, which was almost exactly why Janie put off bringing it. Her mom was hopelessly optimistic. Janie was sure that she’d look lame if she brought it to recess. Eventually, though, Janie’s mom wore down her elementary-level mind. On the third Monday morning of the school year, Janie left the house with her bag packed, the Chinese jump rope hiding at the bottom.
The first half of the school day passed in its typical sequence: first math, then social studies, then language arts. At snack time, as usual, Janie joined her best friend Lydia at her desk cluster. They were discussing their plans for recess, or, more like Lydia was telling Janie what the plan was for recess. Janie usually did whatever Lydia did—it was easier that way.
“Amy told me that her and Sarah want me to hang out with them, so we’re gonna meet them by the swings,” Lydia said.
“They said it’s okay if I come too?” Janie asked. She couldn’t help but doubt that she was included in the initial invitation.
“Yeah,” Lydia said with a bit too much punctuation.
The silence that followed was interrupted by their teacher announcing the end of snack time. The class aimlessly shuffled towards the cubbies at the back of the room where their backpacks were stowed to return their lunch bags. Due to the alphabet, Janie’s cubby was on the top shelf, which was a problem because Janie was the shortest student in the class. Usually the teacher left a stool in front of the cubbies for this reason, but that day there was no stool in sight.
“Lydia, can you put this away?” She held the bag out to her friend.
“Sure.” Lydia took the bag and reached up to the backpack with ease.
Janie realized her mistake as soon as Lydia’s hand disappeared into the backpack. Lydia hesitated for a moment before she pulled her hand out again, this time holding the Chinese jump rope.
“What’s this?” Lydia asked.
“I dunno,” Janie said, looking at her shoes. “My mom made me bring it.”
Lydia inspected the packaging. The rope was navy blue with green specks and wrapped around itself into an infinity sign. Unlike a normal jump rope, it had no end.
“What makes it Chinese?”
“I dunno,” Janie said again.
“Looks like fun. Let’s play with it at recess.”
Perhaps Janie’s mom was right.
At lunchtime, Janie carried the Chinese jump rope with her to the cafeteria. She followed Lydia to their usual table, where she placed the rope in front of her on the table. She felt a strange new sense of pride; surely if Lydia didn’t think the game was lame, Amy and Sarah wouldn’t think so either.
After their insufficient, 20 minutes of lunch, Lydia and Janie exited the cafeteria with the rope and the rest of the fifth grade, following the wave of students towards the playground. Per Lydia’s plan, they met Amy and Sarah at the swings.
“Hey!” Lydia said as they approached her friends.
Janie saw Amy and Sarah shoot each other a side-eyed glance. Anxiety tapped at Janie’s shoulder.
Meanwhile, Lydia pretended not to notice. “Janie brought a game that I think we should play.”
At this, Janie held out the Chinese jump rope.
“Um, okay,” Amy and Sarah said in unison.
Without a word, Janie tore the packaging apart and carefully unraveled the rope. It was much bigger than she’d initially thought—even when she held it with her arms stretched out above her head—the bottom of the circle grazed the ground. She laid the rope on the pavement and picked up the directions.
“Okay,” she said, in an authoritative voice that surprised even her. “I’ll read the directions and tell you guys what to do.” Within a minute, the girls were in position inside the circle, the rope wrapped around Amy and Sarah’s ankles with Lydia standing between them. Janie guided them through the steps, watching as Lydia jumped in and out of the rope.
Sooner than expected, the recess monitors rang the bell that signaled for the students to line up.
“That was fun, Janie,” Amy said, as they walked towards the building.
“Yeah,” said Sarah. “Can we play again tomorrow?”
Janie smiled at Lydia. “Okay.”
The rest of the week followed in the same manner; each day at recess, Janie, Lydia, Amy, and Sarah met at the swings to play Chinese jump rope. And each day, more of Janie’s classmates showed up to play with them. The game made its way into other aspects of Janie’s life as well—by Friday, she no longer ate snacks at Lydia’s desk cluster—people ate at hers. For the first time, Janie understood the appeal of being popular, of being noticed by people she barely knew. The feeling didn’t last long.
The following Monday, Amy showed up to recess with her own Chinese jump rope. It was pink.
There was no more need for Janie.