As chronicled in this column previously, I have extensive experience with children in a van.
This experience has been acquired in different contexts and in important combinations: With and without my spouse, with one child and with half a dozen, with babies, toddlers, young children, pre-teens, and adolescents, with boys, with girls, on quick trips to the grocery store and on 12-hour marathons to the Atlantic Ocean, during daylight hours and through the night, on interstates and on unpaved country roads, surrounded by laughter or quietude or tears or angry fulminations. Thus, I thought I’d seen and done it all in a van with children in tow.
I was wrong. This weekend I took our youngest amigo, Luke, and four of his fellow-12-year-old buddies to “Skyzone,” a bouncy slice of heaven on the south side of Dayton. Luke had been pining to visit Skyzone for months, and his birthday celebration presented the perfect opportunity. (He wanted to go last year for his birthday, but a host of circumstances prevented it.) Skyzone, put simply, is an indoor trampoline fun park. There are trampolines to help you dunk a basketball; trampolines roped off for the express purpose of making a spirited game of dodge ball that much more, ahem, interesting; trampolines to leap off of into a foam pit. And so forth. The two boys in our group who had visited Skyzone previously regaled the other three with tales of how “COMPLETELY AWESOME” it was, and so by Arcanum all five were whipped into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation of all the quadruple backflips and other gravity-defying feats they’d engage in once there.
I expected energy. I expected enthusiasm. I expected bouts of frenetic conversation. I didn’t expect “frenzy,” which I assure you, dear reader, is the accurate term to describe their mental and physical state in the van on the way to our destination. By Phillipsburg the five were a roiling mass of indecipherable verbiage, unusual (to put it charitably) vocalizations of all sorts, semi-controlled laughter, tapping feet and churning legs. The last item presented a potential danger issue, as the young fellow directly behind me is tall for his age. In his occasional paroxysms, borne of the group’s mass hysteria, he stabbed me in the spine with his knees through the seat back. The first thrust took me by surprise. I lurched forward a few inches and reflexively grunted from the impact. After that I spied him in my rear-view mirror and steeled myself for the blows when I saw him readying to let loose in a spasm of mirth.
By Trotwood I resolved to make sense of their exchanges and the sources of their joy, like a poor man’s Margaret Meade observing the mores and customs of these unusual, dynamic creatures—12-year-old boys from small-town Ohio. I listened intently, but my efforts were largely fruitless.
“Hey, guys,” said one youngster, “when we get there we should [loud, indecipherable mixture of syllables]!!”
[Extreme laughter from all participants, especially the one directly behind me; two swift knee jerks through the seat and into my kidneys]. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” they all responded together.
“What was that?” I asked naively.
“Never mind, Dad,” offered Luke. “You wouldn’t understand anyway. But trust me. It was hilarious.”
“Hey, Tim,” interjected another, “Could you turn up the radio? I love this song!”
“Ummm. Sure. Okay.” [I twisted the dial slightly to the right. Five 12-year-olds began to sing in unison the words to a song I had never heard, and—let it be noted—they did so in in decent harmony. At one point one of the artists broke into a rap, and the boys knew this as well. Again, they let rip the lyrics and did so perfectly, and as one. I was relieved to hear no obscenities or sexual innuendo (or worse), but must admit I didn’t catch everything. I made a mental note to have my hearing checked soon, then reconsidered: Maybe it’s better not to hear everything].
As the song ended, the boys resumed their discussion of different classes, teachers, classmates, siblings, sports figures, and video games. There is much disparagement of sisters, followed by both laughter, one-upmanship, and screaming. Lots and lots of screaming, utilized—mostly—to increase their chances of being heard and appreciated by their male, preteen, misunderstood, unappreciated fellow-travelers. They used the words “Bruh,” “Dude,” “Meme,” and “Yo” extensively. The decibel levels employed reminded me of construction sites and rock concerts I’ve attended.
We arrived and checked in for the 90-minute session we’ve already purchased. The boys removed their shoes, put on the special pink Skyzone socks, and sprinted to the bouncy nirvana that awaited. They shrieked and flipped and giggled, stopping occasionally to slurp down some Gatorade and wipe off some sweat. An hour and a half later they were breathing heavily and ready to return to Greenville for pizza, cake, and driveway dodge ball.
The return trip was similar to the first, but—and I didn’t see this coming, either—louder and more frenzied. I realized the boys were now under the influence of trampoline-induced adrenaline and sugar. [Additional mental note: forget the hearing check; invest in ear plugs, ASAP]. There was additional ululating about recently executed feats of trampoline skill and complaints of homework, most of it shrieked, and there were multiple expressions and variations of farting noises, always received as an exemplar of highly sophisticated humor.
We wrapped up the day a few hours later, with a game of “noodle tag” and a few rounds of “boys versus middle-aged-dad-dodge ball.” After saying farewell to his guests as they were picked up by parents and grandparents, Luke and I walked back into the house. I rubbed my temples and considered taking a couple tablets of Ibuprofen.
“Thanks. Seriously. This was the funnest birthday ever.”
I put the Ibuprofen back in the cabinet.
“When can we go back to Skyzone?!?”
I opened the cabinet again and fetched the white bottle. “Soon, Luke. Someday soon. I think Mom would like to take you next time, though.”