Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Double-Dutch Faith

I loved jumping rope, and I was good, too! But I don’t mean that televised competition doing cartwheels in the rope good, though. I mean neighborhood challenge, putting your best girl up against their best girl good. I mean getting slapped in the face with the rope, but acting like that plastic clothesline didn’t sting good.  I mean making cars wait because you’re in the street showing off for some boy who’s acting like he isn’t really watching and stopping just to let a car pass would ruin your mystique good.

There was a time when being black, female, and from Chicago meant that you could jump double dutch. In fact, if you couldn’t, somebody’s mama or auntie or big sister felt like it was their personal responsibility to teach you how. There was no way you would graduate from eighth grade without being able to turn on beat or jump out on your birth month without messing up the other girls in “All In Together.” And it didn’t matter if you were new to the neighborhood or overweight or a tomboy: you had to know how to get in, measuring out the rhythmic slapping of the rope on concrete with one or both arms. Older women called it “digging potatoes,” so we did, too.

Getting in was usually the hardest part. If one of the girls was double-handed, that made it even harder. With four girls playing, one could grab the arms of the offender and force her to turn correctly: tick-tack-tick-tack-tick-tack-tick-tack. If there were only three, there was counting out loud from the jumper and heavy guiding from the other turner. Perfect turning, though, happened from your crew: The girls you learned with on the summer sidewalks of your youth; the girls who talked sh!# on your behalf when some chicks from across the tracks came to your block to challenge you; the girls who begged your mama to let you come outside because your whole block’s reputation rested on your limber limbs. And when you got out there, after checking the shoestrings on your Keds and feigning humility, you started the same way…catching the rhythm and digging potatoes before you burst into the center of the rope and got down!

For me, I had to get in the rope. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the right side of a turner trying to will myself inside. No, I had to get in there fast. Other girls would spend so much time digging potatoes that I would get angry. I would yell things like, “If you don’t jump in, I’m going to.” Still, some would dig and dig and dig some more, never getting up the courage to get in and jump.

“Just let me start from the middle.”

“Hell naw! We don’t do that over here. We jump in.”


“No. You gotta jump in, or you can’t jump with us.”

I love these memories from my youth, not just because they remind me of the one athletic gift I had (Have I mentioned how good I was?), but because they remind me of my truly uninhibited self. Lately, I’ve found myself standing on the sidelines of life, digging potatoes instead of getting in the rope, more often than I should. I remember the girl who wasn’t afraid to get in there and demolish girls much bigger than she was. I remember the girl who got welts across her body and glass stuck in her feet, but who ran inside for some quick first aid before emerging with cartoon bandaids ready for victory. I remember the girl who saw opportunities and decided if you were too afraid to leap, she would leap herself.

I think one of the tricks of the enemy is to convince us that we should be fearful. Satan doesn’t want us to know that we are created on purpose, so doubt creeps in. Confusion creeps in. Trepidation creeps in. And one unfulfilled day, we look up and realize we have been paralyzed with inaction, digging potatoes on the outside of the rope instead of jumping freely in destiny.

I am convinced that God wants us in the rope. Yes, there is the rhythm catching time that is necessary, but ultimately we have to get in the rope. There’s no blessing in digging potatoes. There’s no fulfillment watching others jump. At some point, we have to spring into the center and let our legs fly!

“And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.” (Matthew 14: 29)

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