I glanced up from my iPhone and smiled at my son playing inside the bounce house. He pressed his face against the netting. I nodded and returned to reading, hoping he would return to jumping.
“DA DA, DA DA,” he said.
I looked up again. Toddler eyes pressed through the netting. Children of all ages screamed behind him. The look on his face revealed he would not allow me to enjoy a few moments of peace, leaning against the cinderblock wall. Sigh.
“What do you need, buddy?”
He pointed his tiny finger towards the bounce house door. A smile spread across his face. I inwardly groaned. He was relentless, chanting my name and demanding I join him in the castle-shaped house. I had one option and that was to make my way through the netted door. Ugh.
I climbed into the chaos. Kids rolling and shooting upwards and slamming into walls. My son grabbed my finger and leaned backward with all twenty-five pounds. I fell into a crease with him and he crawled on my chest, pinning me. We rolled together, bumping into the airy walls. I felt an ounce of enthusiasm form in my chest.
Inside the multi-colored bag of air, we chased each other in circles, yelling like wild men. We lowered ourselves on all fours and imitated our favorite animal noises. We launched into the walls and flopped to the floor, bodies pressing into the plastic. I was set loose by a twenty-five-pound tumbler.
Henry was intoxicated with excitement and I felt infected by his joy. He charged and tackled me into a corner where we watched the pack of kids launch up-and-down. Huddled in the corner I felt a feeling I had not experienced in awhile. Playfulness.
One of the great things about small children is their lack of self-consciousness. They embrace the present moment, not worrying about what happened earlier in the morning or what will happen in an hour. Just this moment. As a thirty-five-year-old, I cannot say the same. My mind stretches a million different directions and floats in a sea of anxiety, worry, and stress. My head is like a bounce house, but the thoughts deflecting off the walls are not joyful.
I’m thankful my son offers a gateway to enter the present moment and let loose. To recover the parts of myself I neglect and ignore. I’ve learned to allow my son to take the lead. He knows how to play better than I do. There are times, of course, when I am exhausted and must say no. Parents need a break. I get it. But when he tugs on my finger I try to follow more often than not. I remember he has things to teach me. Gifts to share.
My only advice: wash your hands, wipe your child, and consider setting your clothes on fire after you finish jumping. Bounce houses are cesspools for germs.