On Saturday night, I asked my husband if he had any special requests for Father’s Day activities. His answer was not at all one that I was expecting: that we take the kids to Joker’s. I hoped that by the time he woke up on Sunday morning, he would have forgotten said request. Sunday dawned. He hadn’t forgotten.
Joker’s is an indoor recreation facility for families working on hand-eye coordination. It’s full of the games I can only describe as “what you’d find in an arcade.” It also boasts a bouncy house and a large maze/gym/play structure thing.
Joker’s tagline is: “Family, fun and games. For the kid in you!” Joker’s does not have a tagline for adults, like me, who do not have a kid in them. This disconnect quickly proved ruinous.
I suppose it can be taken as a positive that Sunday was one of those random weather days Maine specializes in: humid, but with a chilly breeze; overcast, but somehow glaringly bright. If anything, we weren’t wasting time among blinking lights and maniacal beeping on what could have been a beach-or-pool day.
We arrived just as the place was opening. A mother was enjoying what my grandfather would have called a life-sustaining cigarette on one of the benches by the entrance. Cheers could be heard from the mini-golf course next door. The scene was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Minutes later, my husband had secured my son’s weight in gold tokens. He tried to teach my daughter how to play some game that involved underhanding a dense plastic ball. It prompted her to start crying. Then he tried to show my son the thrill of simulated race car driving. It prompted him to start crying. We were off to a great start on making this a Father’s Day To Remember.
It was inevitable that our children would eventually be drawn into the vortex that is the maze/gym/play structure thing that is located in the middle of the facility. It’s like those McDonald’s Playland germ traps, only 375 times as big. There are slides, there are rope ladders, there are tunnels. There are probably traces of the Ebola virus and SARS.
“We want to go in!” “Queremos ir!” “I GOT IT! I GOT IT! I GOT IT!” they screamed. (My son’s go-to scream is “I GOT IT,” regardless of context.)
And so we paid a small fortune for them to get a neon orange wrist band and the privilege to tempt fate using nothing more than their own body weight. But because my son is the size of a feisty Cabbage Patch doll, my husband or I would have to brave this activity with them.
My husband half-excitedly volunteered. I gave him my full support.
No sooner had they crouched down the first padded hallway did my daughter burst into tears. Something about it being “too dark” (despite the fluorescent lights) and “too big” (despite the crawl-space dimensions) bothered her. She soon exited to sit on my lap and suck her thumb.
Moments later, she summoned up her courage and decided to give it another try. Only problem was, she wanted me at her side. For some reason, she didn’t think her ready, willing and able father was a suitable climbing mate.
This became a pivotal moment in my day. To say no would be to disappoint my daughter, and probably let her down in some fundamental way that would later be held up as a “root cause” during a particularly illuminating therapy session. To say yes would be to submit myself to whatever is worse than hell.
I said yes.
As we entered hand-in-hand, I reassured myself that the teenaged staff surely does more than eat pizza and twist their own ponytails. Surely they clean this structure on a nightly, if not hourly, basis. I was deluding myself in this way as I gave my husband a dirty look, as if it all was somehow his fault, and took over the reins of Scaling Plastic With Children.
Forty-five minutes later, I exited with both children in tow. What happened in the interim is something I’m not sure you’re ready to read about on this innocent Monday. I will summarize it with the following bullet points:
- I could have knit myself a sweater using the layers of dust covering those domes and lookouts;
- We were befriended by a red-headed six-year-old/Devil spawn who kept urging us to GO FASTER! as we scurried up a nylon ladder;
- I believe I left my kneecaps somewhere between the moving tunnel and the tunnel with speed bumps;
- On multiple occasions, I sent up a silent prayer of ”Please, God, allow me to squeeze through this”;
- My wrists have been permanently bent since noon-time yesterday; and
- My daughter declared it the “best day ever.”
By the time we reached the car, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to bathe us all in Clorox or hand sanitizer. My husband looked at me somewhat sheepishly but also somewhat tiredly, exhausted as he was by a near hour of laughing at me behind my sore back. Then he asked if we could have lunch at Wendy’s.