The truth is: I didn’t want to go strawberry picking.
My wife, Sonia, and the girls Darian (age 12) and Amelia (age 9) had discussed this as a fun activity for one of our staycation days this week. I begged to differ. The thought of being outside in a field on a hot and humid Wisconsin day trying to decide which strawberry was worth picking was kind of the opposite of my idea of fun.
I truly didn’t want to bring my negative energy to an activity they were looking forward to experiencing. During this time of social distancing and close family bonding, negativity can prove itself rather contagious in its own right.
And that’s when I came up with the ultimate compromise. While they went to the strawberry farm, I would set up the ultimate water fun zone. I would pull down all the water play items from our garage rafters. This is a collection of things the kids have received from grandparents and godparents alike. I’d inflate anything that needed inflating, fill the kiddie pools and set up a play area that would allow them to fully enjoy the high-80s weather scheduled for the afternoon.
Perhaps it was the cheap way out, but it worked. The kids were excited about the thought of coming home to a water extravaganza, and Sonia agreed that it would be best to give the ice-cold water from the hose a little time to warm up before the kids splashed in the kiddie pools.
So after Sonia and the kids, including our 4-year-old son Everett, left for their strawberry fun, I got to work. The dunk tank was the first thing I pulled down.
OK, “dunk tank” is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more of a dunk bucket.
Next was the plastic pool, then the inflatable pool with the inflatable slide, a water shooting beach ball that connects to a hose, the self-proclaimed silly sprinkler, water guns that could be filled in the pools, and then the granddaddy of them all—the Slip-N-Slide.
That last item is a personal favorite of mine, of course, that harkens back to my own childhood. I absolutely loved the Slip-N-Slide. Part of that affection can certainly be tied to the fact that I played little league baseball. While no one was ever going to mistake me for the next Robin Yount (as much as I may have daydreamed it so), the one thing I could do well was slide.
I remember drills during practice, and the coaches mostly wanted us to do the leg first slides. And I enjoyed those too, especially perfecting the hook slide or the pop-up slide, where you use the bag to stand back up so that you can run again if there is an overthrow. But we all loved the hands-first slide. We called it a “Petey,” affectionately named after Pete Rose, although as a Brewers fan, my recollections are the likes of Paul Molitor and Charlie Moore getting dirty with hands-first slides. I credit at least a part of my skill for the heads first slide to those summer afternoons on the Slip-N-Slide.
Which is why I was a bit surprised to see that my kids didn’t really know how to slide. They returned and definitely made the most of the water extravaganza, but the Slip-N-Slide got far less attention than the pools, the water guns and the dunk tank.
And their slides were a bit…well, awkward. They approached the Slip-n-Slide with caution and then kind of crawled into a sliding position. Sometimes they didn’t even get down into a slide, they just ran across the mat.
Given that we are spending so much time (wisely, I believe) being cautious, I do think it’s important for kids to also find time to throw caution to the wind and let themselves go. What better safe risk to take than on a Slip-N-Slide?
So we did a sliding lesson. They felt a lesson would only be complete if dad showed them how to do it. (Mom may have planted this seed.) And of course, they had me. What kind of example would I be setting if I wasn’t willing to let myself take a slide of my own?
Happy to say, it’s still as fun at 47 as it was at 7. And then we made a game. Three throws at the dunk tank, and if you missed all three, you had to take a slide.
After a while, their slides got…well, a little better. Truth be told, the best slide was probably when Amelia tripped on her way to the mat—a moment we will forever dub “The Trip and Slide.” But there’s a lot more summer left to go.
As a dad, I’m not sure there’s much better than seeing your kids enjoy something that you too loved as a child. I believe there will be a day when we’ll be able to add the Slip-N-Slide to a list that already includes Star Wars, old Spider-Man cartoons, the Big Loader, Legos, and the original Ghostbusters movie.
Overall, the afternoon was a success. It ended, as most play experiences do, with the girls getting a little testy with one another during a final water gun fight. But if a successful day can be measured by how exhausted you are after, it’s safe to chalk this one up as a win.
And to top it all off—the strawberries were delicious.