“Sorry, bud, there’s not time to go see the Christmas lights tonight,” I told my son Evan, breaking a promise I’d made earlier in the day and bracing myself for the consequences.
The three-year-old brain does many things well. Playing hide-and-seek with somebody sitting on the same couch, for instance, or detecting and rejecting any food that doesn’t come in nugget form. Or, if any food does slip past the nugget detector, making sure that it gets dunked in ketchup, even if that food is a strawberry.
But disappointment is not something it handles well, or quietly.
I winced as Evan processed the information. We wouldn’t be visiting the house with the seven million Christmas lights tonight, the one that, for the month of December, requires its own dedicated nuclear reactor. We wouldn’t be idling in our car, playing Christmas music, watching the lights twinkle and dance around their yard, while those of us in the backseat wondered where the daddy was at that house, and why wasn’t he walking around unplugging everything, grumbling that light switches go in two directions?
As Evan’s mouth opened, I felt my ear holes clench shut, even as my brain raced, and failed, to come up with a better term for ear holes.
“It’s okay. Wanna jump in my bouncy castle,” Evan replied.
For his third birthday back in June, we gave Evan an indoor bouncy castle, and I fear that we may have ruined him. He doesn’t care about anything else.
“What do you want to do this weekend?” you’ll ask him.
“Jump in my bouncy castle,” he’ll say.
“The whole time?” you’ll ask.
“Can we?” he’ll reply.
We thought the bouncy castle would live in a closet, and only get pulled out for rainy days or special occasions. As it turns out, when your only responsibility in life is to make it to the potty in time, every day is a special occasion.
I worry that maybe Evan’s flying a little too close to the sun. The grown-up equivalent of being three years old with your own bouncy castle is probably owning a convertible and having a full head of hair, which does not occur in nature. We might be throwing the universe out of balance.
Growing up, the kid down the street had his own full-size pinball machine, and he turned out kind of messed up. As a parent, it’s your job to make sure your kid’s life is kind of awesome, but not too awesome. If yours is the kid who has everything, he’s probably also the kid who’s pulling the legs off of grasshoppers.
Bouncing is now part of our nightly routine. Basically, we are a family of Tiggers. Except that Evan is the only one bouncing, since his parents have to lie in the center of the bouncy castle, limbs outstretched like we’re worried about falling through the ice on a frozen pond, trying not to calculate how far over the 100-lb weight limit we are.
While Evan squeals and hops around, I like to pass the time by looking around the basement at all the things we can’t use anymore. The ping-pong table. The dartboard. The video games. It used to be such a good man cave down there. Then a benevolent but capricious tyrant built his castle in the center of the room, banishing the original occupants to the outer reaches of the realm, never to be seen from again.
On the plus side, we can break promises to Evan about all the awesome places we’re going to take him, since he has no interest in leaving the house anyway. We’ll still try to get him to the house with the seven million Christmas lights before it powers down for the year, though. Assuming their dad hasn’t already gotten home and unplugged everything.
You can storm Mike Todd’s bouncy castle at firstname.lastname@example.org.