From "Would Somebody Please Send Me to my Room!" by Bob Schwartz, Illustrated by B.K. Taylor
There are some activities that a prospective parent can foresee partaking once their little bundle of joy arrives. I knew about the basic stuff, like consoling a child with a skinned knee and providing lessons on how to ride a two-wheeler bicycle. I could also even envision, years later, having my fingernails firmly embedded in the car dashboard while riding on that first freeway drive together with my wide-eyed fifteen-year-old who'd just procured a driver's permit.
Those things are pretty much inherent in the parental job deal. However, it's the very, very fine print of that contract that surprises the heck out of us, the unforeseen things that often leave parents wondering what in the world just happened.
Parents suddenly find themselves engaged in activities like being in a freezing YMCA pool at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning proudly singing, "London Bridge is falling down..." All the while you're imitating a human pogo stick, bouncing up and down with your ecstatic fifteen-month-old child during an infant aquatics class.
I didn't quite see that one coming, nor did I see the likelihood of having to self-consciously answer the front door adorned with a lovely crown, necklace, and colorful earrings while in the midst of playing Pretty, Pretty Princess with my four-year-old daughter. Ah, the things we do for love.
I've found that, as my children got older, that it became incumbent to come up with new, fun, and exciting activities to do together. As much as I enjoyed it, going to the local zoo together for the 4,945th time no longer cut it when they approached their teen years. My kids had become so familiar with the animals by then that they were able to be on a first name basis with all the snow monkeys.
Shooting baskets together in the driveway certainly serves its purpose and is quality time together, but there are other things that just have a greater register on the Kid Cool Richter scale.
The beauty is that with, say, an eleven-year-old boy, you know you can suggest an activity with a high fun factor if it either involves smashing something, launching something high up into the air or doing something that produces extremely loud noises. The ultimate thrill is to creatively combine all three "somethings" by watching the propelled object come rapidly crashing to the ground and thereby generating a thunderous sound. Additionally, anything involving water, mud, spray paint, climbing, a roof, balloons, a ramp, or a whoopee cushion is sure to be a hit.
One day I found an activity that was definitely going to have the desired fun factor impact. I was reading a magazine describing a running race, part of which offered the challenge of wading through a tremendous amount of mud. This was more than simply treading along in slightly wet dirt. It involved getting through a thick, chunky, dark black quicksand type fluid in a fairly deep lagoon, all the while you're trying to keep your femurs firmly attached to your hip sockets.
As I read the article, I described the race to my eleven-year-old. The race included the presence of huge obstacles like oversized hay bales, ten-foot-high dirt mounds, steep grass hills, rope swings over ponds, and pretty much everything but live crocodiles and riding atop a submarine.
Going along with one of my tendencies of not fully thinking things out, the I'm-Going-To-Be-a-Fun-&-Exciting-Parent syndrome came through as I asked my son if the race sounded like something he'd enjoy. Asking this of an eleven-year-old boy was the epitome of a rhetorical question. The answer was as obvious as if I asked him if he preferred steamed cauliflower and beet juice for dinner or an ice cream sundae and a root beer float.
His three-word answer pretty much summed up children's approach to life as he exploded out of his chair and said, "Sure! Let's do it! That rocks!" Good for him, I thought. Questionable for me, I fretted. I was now in way too deep.
So, after talking to the race director and being assured that it was safe for an eleven-year-old boy (and, more importantly, a forty-year-old dad), we went off for a little father-son bonding to a small town about four hours from home. Thinking of the race hazards that lay ahead of us, I continued to wonder whether I could've achieved the same impact on the Kid Cool Richter scale, and avoided permanent mud stains if I'd instead taken him to the top of my office-parking garage to toss down water balloons. I was afraid to ask. Since the race started early in the morning, we went up the night before and stayed in a hotel. The only thing matching the enthusiasm of an eleven-year-old for participating in unusual, daring, and adventurous activity is their zeal for hotel room service, the mini-bar, and in-room movies.
My son was clearly in paradise given the fact he could order a pizza and cheesecake at 11:00 p.m. while munching on a $22 bag of pretzels from the mini-bar for an appetizer, and all the while laughing through an Adam Sandler movie.
We probably could've gone home without the race, and this would have ranked right up there with his greatest weekends of all time.
The next morning I began to wish we had left, when right before the start of the race, the director drolly asked, "If anyone is the type to litigate if he or she gets injured - well, could you please leave now?"
Those weren't the most comforting pre-race words I would have liked to hear. My eager son questioned what exactly "lit a gate," meant. I'm sure he was thinking it meant he was about to get the opportunity to jump over some fences after they'd been set on fire.
The gun went off before I could respond and we were on our way. At first things seemed easy enough, as the first hurdle was just a little foot-high jump. I cleared it with about a centimeter to spare, and I'm not sure if my hop-along son even noticed it existed, as he never broke stride.
The degree of difficulty of the barriers quickly changed as we subsequently encountered monstrous sand piles, log jumps, hay bales etc. My son had a continuous ear-to-ear smile on his face, while I'm sure I was exuding a look of sheer fear, not knowing if the ultimate of all obstacles was lurking ahead of us. I could tell when we were approaching the legendary mud pond since we could hear the squeals of spectators and runners as we rounded a corner and headed toward the sludge and muck pool of yuck. My initial thought was whether our shoes would have to be completely totaled after the race. But upon wading into the mud, which was beyond our knees, it became a non-issue as our shoes were quickly separated from our feet. I was silently praying my ankles didn't become detached as well.
Not knowing if the lagoon was going to swallow my son, I gallantly allowed him to climb upon my shoulders. This was another activity that must have been included in that fine print of the parenthood contract that I had never read.
Eventually we were able to extricate ourselves from the morass and I was thankful I wouldn't have to explain to my wife how twelve strangers and a mule were required to assist in removing us from the quagmire.
Covered in mud, we slowly moved towards the finish line together. My son was clearly in seventh heaven as he enthusiastically hollered along with the other runners and spectators. Despite that the enthusiasm of an 11-year-old is often quite contagious, I remained a bit more solemn. I was more than a bit concerned that somewhere under the mud encased on my body, my running shorts had come off as well.
Once we finished, I took my chances and quickly hopped in the outdoor shower. Thankfully for all, my shorts were in place after the mud eventually washed off. My son chose to bypass instead the shower completely, as he wanted to see how many hours it would take before the all-encompassing mud would cake firmly upon his body. Ah, to be an eleven-year-old again.
As we headed back to the car, I figured that for the following weekend a comfortable, safe, and dirt-free afternoon movie together would be a sufficient parent/child outing. My son was looking a bit further ahead as he excitedly asked, "Can we sign up now for next years race?" I looked at him and provided the standard noncommittal answer of "We'll see."
But I knew that given how this weekend registered so high on the Kid Cool Richter Scale, that we'd most likely be back for the race the following year.
I could only hope that by then I'd be finally able to have removed all the dried mud from my eyelashes and ears.
The book, "WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE SEND ME TO MY ROOM!" is a series of humorous essays dealing with family life. It lets parents know that they're not alone with their feelings of being clueless and the ongoing chaos of having a family.
Click to Purchase WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE SEND ME TO MY ROOM!
Bob Schwartz is a syndicated humor writer whose essays have appeared in over 150 magazines and newspapers. His latest book is a hysterical look at parenting, "Would Somebody Please Send Me to My Room!" Bob authored the popular humorous book on running, "I Run, Therefore I Am - NUTS!". He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and schwartzhumor.com.
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