From the moment you arrive at the park you eyeball every square inch, hoping to steer your kids toward the area closest to a bench. Your kids will have none of that, though, because they know playground designers always put the most death-defying (and most popular) park amenities as far away from the benches as possible. The only people who ever get to actually sit on park benches are grandparents and dogs, both of whom abide by the motto “Wake me up when it’s time to go home.”
For the first 20 minutes at the park, you are nothing but a human safety net. You hustle around the park from tower to tower, covering as much ground as you can, following your kids as if they were high-flying trapeze artists attempting aerodynamic acrobatics that would make even Evel Knievel nervous. Sometimes you have to wiggle between park structures, ducking under platforms and squeezing between poles, just to be there when your kid decides that the other side of the playground looks much more fun.
But once that 20 minutes is exhausted, the kids home in on a few pieces of dangerous playground equipment that not only represent the four basic Playground Olympics events (The Monkey Bars, Slides, Swings and The Water Fountain) but also will cause you to max out your health insurance deductible in one night.
Let’s examine each one of the events so you know where you’ll be competing and where to place the ice pack.
The Monkey Bars
This beacon of athletic prowess is something you’ve done hundreds of times before--when you were 10. Now, in an attempt to impress your kid and to show all the other dads in the park you’ve “still got it,” you grab a hold of the first bar and make your way across. Well, you make it two bars in before you hear a loud pop in your shoulder and think to yourself, That can’t be good. You drop to the ground in agonizing pain and immediately notice the intense muscle strains in your arms and ripped skin on your hands (from holding the bars super tight). Worse yet, you can’t allow anyone else to know you are dying, so you high-five everyone--except for grandpa, of course, whose shoulder is still intact and is sleeping comfortably on the bench.
Much like dads, slides come in all shapes and sizes. There are short slides, steep slides, tube slides, twisty slides, side-by-side slides and Wasn’t-Meant-To-Be-A-Slide-But-Kids-Are-Sliding-Down-It-Anyway slides. There are three ways to injure yourself on any one of these types of slides.
Injury #1: Standing at the bottom of the slide, waiting to catch your little angel as she comes down. Just before she reaches the bottom your wife will almost certainly call your name, to which you will take your eyes off the slide just long enough for your angel to barrel into your shins like an angry soccer ball with teeth. If you look around the park, you’ll notice several dads wearing shin guards. Now you know why.
Injury #2: In an effort to prove your manliness, you decide to climb up the slide. Of course, you’ve already forgotten that you pulled your arm muscles on the Monkey Bars which keeps you from holding on. You fall, face first, into the the rim of the slide. This isn’t as painful as it’s sounds. It’s more painful than it sounds.
Injury #3: At some point your child will ask you to go down the slide. This is the moment you realize that slides, which come in all shapes and sizes, don’t come in “dad-size.” When it happens, I recommend pretending that you meant to get stuck. And, once you wiggle out and make your way on down, find a nice, quiet place to inconspicuously dig out the underwear that’s wedged so high up your keister it makes thongs look prudish.
Swings seem so safe and so simple, but all it takes is a little pressure from your kid (“Swing me higher!”) and few Herculean pushes for a swing to come back and hit you right in the face. And as you grab your nose to see if it’s broken, BAM!--the swing hits you in a place that makes getting hit in the face seem like a blessing.
The Water Fountain
Once a Water Fountain is spotted it becomes the focal point of any kid who is old enough to know what it is and young enough to still need your help to reach it. Your child will not take into account that you are sore, bloodied and exhausted from the rest of the Playground Olympics. No sir. She’ll come to you, every 4.6 seconds asking you to lift her up so she can take a drink, spray you in the face with water, kick you in the stomach and put her mouth directly on the faucet, which will cause your wife to yell at you for precisely 11 days. Worse yet, when another kid (who isn’t yours) notices that you are helping at the Water Fountain, he’ll walk right up to you as if you work there and your sole responsibility is to lift kids so they can quench their thirsts. You’d be furious with his dad for allowing this to happen, but he’s currently scouting the woods for safe wedge removal locations.
The Playground Olympics take dedication and perseverance. They’ll also leave you with great stories to tell your other dad friends:
See that scar on my knee? Summer games of 2010. I was only 3 rungs shy of completing the Monkey Bars before my shoulder dislocated and I landed on a shattered beer bottle. Should have seen the standing-O I got from the crowd when I walked off the playground on my own accord. It was legendary.
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