On Friday, Judah and I went to a local indoor playground for a crawl around the tunnels and slides. This playground is the kind of place where people who have nice houses host their kids’ birthday parties a.) Because they can afford to have a bunch of adolescent employees shout at their child and their child’s friends, rather than do it themselves, and b.) Because they probably have nice carpets and nice carpets and awesome birthday parties don’t mix.
Normally it’s about 5 dollars a pop for a child of Judah’s age to get in the door, even more if the kid is older and can actually do more than lick the balls in the ball pit, Luke and I are both Dutch, however, so the first time we took Judah was the 10th anniversary extravaganza- because admission was free. We walked in the door and said, “Enjoy this Judah, because you probably won’t be back until some kid invites you to his party here in the fifth grade.” How wrong we were. That fateful day we filled out a requisite door prize ballot, and lo and behold received an email the next day informing us we had won a year’s pass. Total score!!!
Now, to get a proper visual of the kind of indoor playground we’re talking about requires some imagination. There are approximately 4 levels of tunnels, nets, cubes, slides and ramps. The highest level is about 20 feet up. I’m fairly confident the person who designed the facility bought a bunch of random playground equipment and let their five-year-old son put it together. Some of the areas are really dark, the slides are really steep with pretty big drops at the bottoms, and there are quite a few places in the "cube section" where you can fall through holes- in a nutshell, it's amazing! Best of all, if you go on a weekday when most children are toiling away learning about photosynthesis, you can pretty much have the place to yourself! Most of the parents who do bring their kids, bring a laptop or a book and sit in the table and chair area away from the playground. Judah, being about half a decade too young to handle most of the equipment, requires parental assistance, so Luke and I end up going along.
On one of our early forays into the tunnels we heard whisperings of the giant red slide. The red behemoth that was difficult to find, but once found, guaranteed screams from even the toughest middle-schooler. After witnessing a birthday party picture being stalled by the absence of “Tyler!!!!!!!!” who was lost in the playground looking for said Behemoth - he never did emerge, likely a victim to the Siren call of the rolling conveyorbelt (picture your child as a milk crate), we knew we had to find it.
Luke, Judah and I entered the tunnels with new resolve...and kept up the resolve for five minutes...then ten....then fifteen... After almost twenty minutes we were still somewhere in the labyrinth of plastic with no sign of the mythic slide. Desperate times called for desperate measures; we found a seven year old with a wild glint in his eye – the telltale mark of a red behemoth rider. We pleaded with him to lead us to the spot. He obliged, swinging his way from level to level like a spider monkey on birthday cake. Winded but exhilarated, we found ourselves in a dark, dead- end tunnel with only one exit- the red behemoth! Luke took Judah down first. They screamed for longer and higher than necessary (I hoped), as I psychologically prepared myself to follow.
I dislike heights and I dislike activities that have a distinct possibility of killing me, so the sheer drop ahead of me seemed like a rather bad idea. However, my 17 month old son had just hurtled himself down with a smile, so how could I turn back? I closed my eyes, braced my hands against the walls of the tunnel in an attempt to slow down the certain death to come, and pushed off. I was like a bullet - no joke. My stomach dropped in a way it hadn’t since our plane home from Amsterdam decided it had bronchitis and tried to cough us all out into the Atlantic. It was terrifying.
At the bottom, I was exhilarated. I kissed the ground. I kissed Judah. I kissed Luke. I kissed my elbow from which I had scraped off several layers of skin. Then we looked at each other and realized there was only one thing we could do ...go back and try it again!
Now, each time I take Judah to conquer the playground, I'm cognizant of how amazing it is we have the opportunity to experience a bit of childhood again. I only hope we are nurturing his sense of adventure and natural curiosity as much as he’s nurturing ours.
Happy playing everyone!
If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.