Welcome to Thunderdome

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I know how the zombie apocalypse is going to start. Well, let me rephrase that. I know where the zombie apocalypse is going to start. At the crappy little indoor playground inside my town’s mall. Picture a half-a-dozen foam/plastic structures in the center of the mall’s food court—a playhouse, a slide, a bridge, a raft, rocks—scattered around a small area with a semi-soft foam floor. The whole thing is encircled by soft benches. There’s only one way in and one way out—an entry way marked by an automatic dispenser of hand sanitizer, like some sort of heavy-handed element of foreshadowing in a bad dystopian sci-fi flick.

Inside this “play circle,” roughly 78 children, all under the age of 5 are running mad while their parents sit on the benches updating their Facebook statuses and drink Diet Cokes from oversized Chik-Fil-A cups.

Basically, this playground is a cacophony of communicable diseases and pre-school angst. It’s not my favorite place to take the kids. In my head, every one of those little bastards running around that playground has pink eye. And the violence is astonishing. It’s like Thunderdome.

The last time we were there, this one little kid, maybe three or four years old, was walking around, systematically slapping other kids. He’d slap one kid, wait for their reaction, then walk to the other side of the play zone and slap another kid, wait for the reaction…like he was performing some sort of sociopathic experiment.

And don’t even get me started on the biting. Lord, there was so much biting (which is exactly how the Zombie apocalypse will begin—playground biters with pink eye).

And the parents, as a whole, were just oblivious to the whole bloody mess. One mother was so preoccupied with knitting or twitter or whatever it is that mothers do to mentally escape, that she didn’t realize her baby had actually escaped Thunderdome. I watched a good Samaritan scoop up the baby as it was crawling past the Asian Express, then walk around the food court for five minutes asking everyone, “is this your baby?” “Is this your baby?” Finally, she found the right disinterested mother, who took the baby back so calmly (and without even a thank you) that it made me think this wasn’t her first time losing a child.

Yeah.

So this is where my kids like to go when it’s 38 degrees and raining outside. I’m conflicted every time they see it’s crappy outside and say, “hey dad, let’s go to the mall!” On the one hand, my kids are gonna get pink eye. It’s only a matter of time. On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to see ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. Plus, watching a bunch of moms lose their kids in public makes me feel like a pretty good dad.

I’m not sure why my kids like it, though. The playground equipment is kind of lame (a foam raft? What are they supposed to do, pretend to row a boat?), and, as I’ve said, the other kids are pretty violent. It’s almost guaranteed that one or both of my children will come out there bleeding a little bit. Maybe my kids are exorcising some sort of suburban angst, like Fight Club for little kids. Their lives are so comfortable and numbing, what with Sheriff Callie and juice boxes and soccer practice, that they need a little raw violence just to feel alive.

I get it. Who doesn’t like to get slapped around by a three-year-old sociopath every once in a while?

 

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The Foot Lickers

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When you bring your baby home from the hospital after he’s born, your mind is reeling with the possibilities of parenthood. Mostly, you see rainbows, imagining afternoons at the park playing baseball and making macaroni necklaces for Christmas presents. What you can’t imagine is that at some point during your tenure as a parent, you’re going to have to say the phrase, “son, don’t lick your sister’s feet.”

You’re not an idiot. You know there will be ups and downs. There will be tantrums in the Fun Depot. Smoothies spilled in the car. Maybe some light biting. But having to tell one child not to lick the other child’s feet never even crosses your mind.

But it’s going to happen. The first foot-licking incident will be accidental. They’ll be wrestling barefoot and an errant foot will cross in front of someone’s face and that kid will seize the opportunity and stick his/her tongue out and take a lick. It’s an act of curiosity mainly. The other child will giggle and then it’ll be an all out foot lick fest, at which time you’ll have to say, “son, don’t lick your sister’s feet.”

It’s such a weird thing to say, you’ll actually pause and think, “I can’t believe I just had to say that.”

Soon you’ll be saying it so often, you’ll have to write it on the dry erase “rule board” next to other gems like, “don’t put mom’s pearls on the kitty,” and “don’t tell strangers their hair looks funny,” or “glow sticks are not food” or any number of bizarre societal norms that most of us take for granted.

But the foot-licking thing will be the weirdest. At least for a while. Then the kids will come up with something even weirder that makes you long for the simplicity of the foot-licking days. I don’t know what that thing will be yet. I’m just warning you, it’s going to get weird. Then it’s going to get weirder.

 

Injury Free Work Days: 0

Can we get through a single day without one of my kids throwing a toy truck at the other one? It’s amazing what my kids can turn into a weapon. You’d think a bubble maker would be pretty benign, but if I leave the kids alone on the porch with a small bubble maker, one of them will get water-boarded by the other. And my daughter thinks the only way her fairy princess wand will work is if she puts her entire body behind it. She’s like a ninja with that thing.

It reminds me of the intense “Chinese throwing star and nunchucks” phase I went through as a kid. I have no idea why my mother thought it would be a good idea to let a 10 year old have half a dozen pointy metal discs forged with the singular purpose of killing people from a distance. I didn’t question her decision at the time, but now that I have kids of my own, I’m a little suspect. Of course, this was before safety was a real concern. Apparently, kids raised in previous decades never got hurt. How else can you explain our lack of bicycle helmets and seat belts? And yet most of us survived somehow. It was probably all the hairspray we used back then. All that puffy, crusty hair was like walking around with an airbag on your head.

Looking back, it seems a little strange to go through a “throwing star” phase. I can’t imagine my kids getting into that sort of thing. But all Southern boys growing up in the ‘80s went through this phase. Like every other kid I knew, I spent a lot of time in the knife shop while my mom browsed the consignment store next door. It was inevitable that I’d come out of that shop with something sharp I could throw at other people.

Basically, childhood for me was just a series of weapons-based phases. A few other notable phases: bow and arrow phase. Homemade slingshot phase. Poison dart gun phase. Throwing pinecones at other people’s faces phase. Booby trap phase. The list goes on. It’s the result of the laissez faire parenting techniques of the time. A lot of people look back on the fact that our parents simply opened their back doors and made us go play outside as a sort of idyllic period in history. In a lot of ways it was—Last Child in the Woods and all that crap—but the truth is, we just spent most of that outside time trying to figure out different ways to maim each other with the tools at hand. We didn’t want to kill anyone, but if we could cause serious injury without getting into trouble, then we were game.

So maybe a nation full of video game children isn’t so bad after all. The first person shooter games may be disturbing, but at least they’re not literally playing war like we did, fastening makeshift bayonets to our toy guns and loading our backpacks with grenades (heavy rocks). You don’t know darkness until you trap your best friend in a ditch and pepper him with rocks and pinecones. But we weren’t fat, so we had that going for us.