One of the many ways my wife – and many others – describe me is that I’m like a big kid. When I play with my kids outside, they roll on top of me – then I roll on top of them. When I rake leaves, I make extra-big piles to jump in. I love science fiction and comic book movies and dinosaur movies and – well, frankly, any movie that involves explosions, special effects, and machines and creatures not currently existing on our planet.
(Yes, I cried at the end of “The Notebook,” but everyone does that, so it doesn’t count.)
So imagine my shock when I realized I was acting like a grown-up today.
…and to think it happened at Chuck E. Cheese
We had been invited to meet some friends at the local kid-centric pizza/arcade/house of adrenaline, and since our son had never been my wife and I decided to go.
Now, the last time I was there (at least 12 years ago), my older daughters were not even in their teens and half the place was a giant jungle gym, with big hanging tubes and all kinds of fun things to climb on. The other half was an arcade and food area, along with a small stage featuring an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese that, fortunately, has never been turned on when I’ve been there.
Today, though, it was about 75-percent arcade, 20-percent food, and maybe 5-percent (at best) involved any kind of physical activity. What had happened?
Times change, I suppose. So we bought some tokens and looked around for some games to play. Many were boring; the exciting ones, of course, involved driving cars as fast as possible or saving the world from Decepticons or dinosaurs or undead pirates. My son spent nearly the entire time learning to drive courtesy of the fine folks at the Fast & the Furious driving academy.
The Dodge Viper and the moment of truth
These racing games require far more skill that a 5-year-old possesses – or at least, more than MY 5-year-old possesses. We have no game system at the house, so he’s never played a video game before. Controlling a joystick was a totally new experience for him; trying to drive was – well, it was a wild ride, let’s say that.
I had to help him choose his location (Maui), his vehicle (Dodge Viper SRT-10), its color (cherry red), and an upgrade (nitrous oxide – yeah, baby!)…but I also had to push the gas pedal since he couldn’t reach it. And I had to help him steer.
That last part was where I went wrong.
As I stood there beside him, straining to reach the accelerator with my foot from a standing position, I found myself trying to keep him on the road. He’d steer wildly from left to right and right to left and left to right – then stay there on the far right and nail just about every tree, rock, guardrail, bridge abutment, and convenience store he could.
I’d pull him back onto the road only to watch him go ricocheting from one car to another, flipping over, doing 360s in the middle of tunnels and careening off mountainsides then winding up back on the side of the road, picking off telephone poles like he was mowing a lawn.
“Stop, Daddy! Let me do it!” he kept saying.
“But you keep hitting all these things on the side, bub!” I’d explain.
“You’re not letting me steer!”
“I’m trying to, but you keep hitting things and knocking things over!”
I was starting to get frustrated when he finally replied,
Oh…you mean, you meant to do that…
Just like a few years ago, when he was nearly 3 and I was walking with him along the dirt road near our house, and he kept deliberately pushing his baby stroller into the ruts – I had completely misunderstood the objective.
Back then, he wasn’t trying to get the stroller from point A to point B in the smoothest, most effective way; he was having fun driving it through the ruts. Today, the point of the racing game wasn’t to pass all the other cars; it was to have fun, effectively driving through ruts again.
When I realized this, I immediately took my hand from the steering wheel and pushed the accelerator to the floor.
“You go ahead, buddy,” I said. “You’re doing a great job of knocking down everything in sight.”
He smiled, never taking his eyes off the screen. “Yes, I am!” he beamed.
I may be an adult, but fortunately, my son saved me once again from becoming an all-too-serious, no-fun grown-up. As I write this, it occurs to me he has also taught me a valuable life lesson: You don’t always need to pass all the other cars; sometimes you just need to drive through some ruts and mow down a few road signs.
And push the accelerator to the floor when you do it.