Maybe I was weakened by the oppressing heat, or perhaps it was the 103rd time the triplets pleaded, but whatever the reason, I caved. “Okay, we can go to the bouncy house place today,” I said. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I had made a monumental mistake.
“Maybe it won’t be that terrible,” I innocently thought to myself as I shepherded my 4 kids into the “Fun Zone” while sipping my iced coffee. “Ma’am, these kids can’t come in without socks,” the attendant chirped as paid the exorbitant admission price. “But it’s summer. They’re wearing flip-flops,” I explained. Blank stare. “They don’t have socks,” I added.
The attendant shook her head, very disappointed with my lack of bouncy house knowledge. “Well, you can buy them here. Only $4 a pair!” she said before registering the look of discontent on my face. “You can run next door to Dollar Tree and buy some,” she whispered.
So off we marched to the land of cheap socks and came back, socks on small sweaty feet, ready to bounce. The kids ran through the swinging door marked “Entrance” happily waving their secret green-light-only stamps on their hands. As I started through the swinging room, the attendant held her hand in front of me, blocking my entrance into the madhouse ahead.
“Ma’am, where are your socks?”
“Me?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am. Mommies and daddies need to wear socks too.”
“Um, I won’t be bouncing,” I replied sweetly.
“Everyone.Wears.Socks.” Said the now frightening attendant through barred teeth.
“Four dollar socks it is!” I said, handing her my lunch money.
“Oh and Ma’am,” she said. “You can’t bring that coffee in here. But you can buy dip-n-dots and soda at our concession stand!”
And so it began. Uncaffeinated, wearing neon overpriced socks, I was accosted with a noise level I never knew possible. Kids were running in circles. Screaming, Jumping off everything that wasn’t nailed down, and some things that were. Justin Beiber was blaring from the speakers overhead. I saw a child in a “World’s Awesomest Brother” t-shirt rolling on floor with a little girl in a choke hold (probably his sister). I saw moms sitting stiffly on child sized chairs, checking their phones discretely while likely muttering Forrest Gump’s girlfriends prayer (Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly. Fly far, far away). Everything as far as the eye could see was neon, or the brightest primary color possible. “Watch me! Watch me!” I heard kids scream from every direction. It was like the party scene from Animal House, only with cotton candy instead of beer.
I stepped into a puddle of something (I’d really like to never know what) at the foot of a slide. I wanted to find a corner and rock back and forth in the fetal position until my time at this insane romper room was over. I set my phone alarm for 1 hour, willing myself to survive just long enough for us to get our money’s worth. After all, it couldn’t get worse. Until it did.
“Okay kids, who is ready to get excited!” Some lunatic bounce house employee screamed into a microphone. “Everyone to the dance floor!” Kids swarmed to the middle of the room, idled with anticipation. A few seconds later an adult wearing a life-sized mouse costume bounded into the room. And that was the moment the children lost their marbles. The kids erupted into ear-splitting, high-pitched shrieks, akin to Beetle-mania. The kids were running in circles, turning purple at the sheer insanity of dancing with a life-sized mouse. I saw my own children breaking into hip swaying, arm flailing dance moves I didn’t know existed.
After what felt like hours, the weird giant mouse disappeared (probably into the break room to reevaluate his/her life choices) and the bounce house attendees assumed their endless jumping. At last, my cell phone alarm joyfully went off. It was time to leave. But my momentary excitement was short-lived when I realized I had no idea where my children were. I’d spot one child, only to lose them behind a slide. I’d make eye contact with another of my brood and scream across the room, “We’re leaving! It’s time to go!” But said child would just smile, point to their ear in the universal sign of “I can’t hear you, or so you think,” and run away again. I considered just leaving with whatever 4 kids were closest to the door, mine or not. After all, I’m a cool mom who take her kids on hellish excursions. The new kids will surely adapt!
But I soldiered on, somehow managing to capture my own children and pulling them to the exit. “Come again!” chirped the attendant, who I now suspect was the devil.
As we drove home the car was utterly silent. The kids sat quietly processing the overload of activity and sound they had just encountered. I worried they were suffering from PTSD. And if there were not, I was pretty sure I was.
And so, fellow parents, learn from my cautionary tale of bouncing wonderlands. Don’t try to be the fun parent. Shut down any and all bounce house requests quickly and firmly. And if you do not, and believe me on this one, you will wish you had.