In the study we have been thinking about embodiment and children’s bodies as key mediating sites between the personal and the political, private and public life. They are sites where public life is encountered, sometimes brutally. At the same time, their vulnerabilities can be also be revealing about our own and others’ practices of everyday life, as well as eliciting gestures of solidarity and concern.
As well as being sleep deprived for a good portion of the early fieldwork I was also in chronic pain. I had a slipped disc which saw me intimately acquainted with sciatic pain for almost three years. It’s a horrible, nauseating pain that made me sensitive to any abrupt movement or jolt, to too much sitting or the impact of running, jumping, and dancing and all those movements that able bodied children probably don’t think twice about.
My fieldnotes are sprinkled with explanations about why I couldn’t chase anyone around the playground, join on the trampoline, throw the Frisbee, help someone off the monkey bars, or sit for too long. Yet my own impaired mobility made me very conscious of just how mobile smaller bodies are and how much movement is involved in the doing of childhood. It also made me aware of children’s practices of caring for others. On more than one occasion children, boys and girls, asked me how my leg was (I had explained sciatica as a pain in my leg, which largely it was). I was surprised when I was asked this after particularly longer breaks between meet ups. It’s not something I ever imagined anyone would remember or care about.
Most memorably during one of my visits to a school, during the morning break, Eleanor (one of the study participants) and her friends were in the playground organising themselves for a game which I was invited to join. The proposal was that we play ‘pac-man’ and the ‘splat game’. The first game involved running along on court lines (court lines for tennis, basketball and football) and chasing each other. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t run because it was too painful. Eleanor and her friends asked me why I wasn’t playing and I explained. Without any negotiation or any quibbles, it was unanimously decided that they will change their game so I am able to join in. We were now playing ‘splat’ which is more static and only requires crouching when the leader shouts ‘splat’ at you. We continued to play this until the end of the break. I was deeply moved by how quickly, matter-of-factly, and with no fanfare, the girls changed their game to make it possible for me to join in.