I remember jumping Double Dutch on the sidewalk outside my house in West Covina, CA, with my best friend Chrissie Mallon and my middle sister Shelly, while my youngest sister Diane sat on the grass watching. I was in junior high, young enough to still enjoy playing outside in our suburban southern California neighborhood and old enough to care whether I did well in front of my younger sisters.
Although Double Dutch has been elevated to a competitive sport in some places, for generations of girls it has been a pick-up game that combines skill, fun and friendship. The timing has to be just right. The rope handlers practice a bit to get the two ropes in sync, egg-beater style, while the jumper concentrates on finding the right moment to dash into the rope spotlight. Then it is jump! jump! jump! your heart pumping to the rhythmic sound of feet and ropes hitting the ground or the chanting song that helps you keep time. Double Dutch is a game of teamwork: if anyone messes up, the ropes come tumbling down, sometimes resulting in a skinned knee or at least a bit of wounded ego.
I really hadn't given this childhood game much thought until I read about Michelle Obama kicking off her shoes and trying a turn at Double Dutch on the White House South Lawn last week as part of a campaign to promote more physical activity and healthy eating in kids. A Saturday New York Times column by Charles M. Blow on "The Magic of Michelle" hailed her game attempt at jumping rope as further evidence of the First Lady's singular ability "to be both fun and serious simultaneously"--characteristics contributing to her immense popularity. Juxtaposed alongside the Obama column, by purpose or happenstance, was a lengthy, personal essay on "The Mismeasure of Woman" by journalist Joanne Lipman reflecting more broadly on the mixed progress of American women in recent decades.