On the pros and cons of jousting

Jess and I are at the Renaissance Festival, watching the troubadours and the fire jugglers and eating cinnamon almonds and discussing if the jousting is actually real.

“Well,” I say, “they are falling off the horses. And that’s gotta hurt.”

She considers this. “But do they know they are going to? Do they decide the man with the red shirt will fall down this time?”

“Probably,” I say.

“And do you think that would make it hurt less?”

“Hard to say.”

“Do you think they like to fall off the horse?” Clearly this is hard for her to imagine, but what other explanation could there be for the sport? Jessica finds people’s motivations unfathomable and immensely interesting.

I think of all the sparring I’ve done, the punches that slipped under my guard, the bruises that never quite healed, the anxious visits to the orthopedist who would recommend that I skip the weekend’s tournament. I didn’t give it up because I got tired of broken bones. I gave it up because of Jessica. For me there was never a way to back off the intensity. There was either go after it or quit.

“I think they like the sport.”

She thinks about this for a little while. “And the sport means they must fall off the horses.”


She nods, and watches another match. She is wearing her big round sunglasses, the red ones, and she has a very serious expression on her face, and she is so extremely adorable that I lean over to kiss her soft cheek.


“I know,” I say. “I can’t help it, I’m your mom.”

She shakes her head and turns back to the jousting.

“I do not understand this,” she says.

“Well,” I say. “The idea is to take the lance, that’s the long stick, and strike it against the target, that’s that symbol in the middle of each rider’s chest. And if you hit the target right, then your opponent is going to get knocked off his horse.”

“I know,” she says, with all the fourteen-year-old she can muster. “But I do not understand this.”

And I suppose if sweat and blood and pain are your constant companions, you would not be able to conceive why other people would seek them out.

“I guess everyone is different,” I say lamely.

“Like you hate bananas. And sunflowers.”

“Sunflowers are extremely creepy.”

“We live in the Sunflower State.”

“That doesn’t make them not creepy.”

“I don’t like sunflowers, either,” she says loyally. But she doesn’t know how not to tell the truth, so she adds, “But I like bananas. And it’s okay for us to be different.”

“Yes. It’s okay for us to be different.”

“You would like to do that,” she says, nodding towards the jousters. “But you do not know how to ride horses.”

It would be fabulous to go flying down the lists, concentrating on knocking your opponent on his ass. Maybe I’ve found my new sport. If only I knew how to ride . . . .

“And I know how to ride horses, but I would not like to do that.”

“Well,” I say. “Everyone’s different.”

She contemplates the arena where the lists have been set up. The match ends with one knight taking a victory lap, and then the stands begin to empty out.

“It looks like you could go talk to the knights,” I say. “If you want.”

She considers this idea for a while. “Are all the riders boys?”

“I think so.”

“But you would do it anyway. If you knew how to ride horses.”


“Even though you could get hurt.”

“I never actually think I’m going to get hurt, you know.”

“Well,” she says. “Everyone’s different.”