VIRGINIA BEACH — Gone are the days of neighborhood playgrounds and trips to the zoo that once captured my two daughters’ imaginations. As preteens. their entertainment tastes have matured to the summertime excitement of theme parks and go-carts. I prefer the zoo to a loop-de-loop roller coaster.
This summer, I found myself buying tickets to a large water park. My wife assigned herself the position of “guardian of our stuff” early in the outing. This allowed her to strategically find an out-of-the-way reading nook that offered lots of shade and very little aquatic excitement.
I was assigned to my usual role of guide to my two daughters. Our day started by snagging a trio of inflatable tubes for a leisurely float in perfectly chlorinated water. This initially resulted in high marks all around for me, but my daughters quickly bored and steered our party to one of the many lofty water slides for which the park is known.
We fought our way through throngs of wet teens to grab a foam mat and stand in a motionless line twisting up to our goal. Progress was slow. As we climbed the anticipation and heights began to weigh on my youngest.
Was this safe? Who invented water slides? You are going too, right, Daddy? How high are we?
Finally, we reached the top. Grateful to be out from the hot stairwell, I noticed a posted sign that I hoped would provide answers to some of the questions I had not been able to answer. The sign warned pregnant riders or those with bad backs to stay clear.
At the bottom, was this:
Maximum rider weight 250 lbs.
My weight was closer to 300 lbs.
I was breaking this rule.
Had I just waited through an incredibly long line and a robust Q&A session only to be turned away at the precipice?
Would my youngest go without me?
I looked to the 16 year old manning the stool between two launch areas. Certainly, he would have been trained on the physics of this ride. I confessed to him I was a “little” over the limit. He responded, “I’ve seen guys bigger than you go down.”
So I placed my mat down in a bubbling trough, atop dozens of jets, which ensure a wet launch, and climbed on as the 16 year old repeated the rules of the ride we had heard in line over and over.
“Stay with your mat. Keep your legs crossed. Relax, and … go.”
But I did not go. My weight had pushed the mat flat against the base of the trough cutting off all jet water. Holding the edge of the mat, I tried scooting forward but, without the water’s lubrication, the mat was holding firm to the bottom.
I tried again. I sensed impatience all around me from the gathered crowd.
Embarrassed, I let go of the mat and grabbed the side of the trough with both hands and pulled, finally launching myself forward into the slide. And off the mat.
I broke the first rule:
Stay with your mat.
Quicky, I crossed my legs as I slid into the first turn, doing my best impression of a torpedo. I picked up speed as water roared past my ears. I shot into the second turn and flew so high up onto the wall of the slide that I was able to see the sidewalk far below.
My shorts grinded the edge of the turn, and I knew I was about to be flung to my death.
As I came out of the turn, I went spread eagle trying to slow my quick descent.
Keep your legs crossed.
Another rule was shattered.
I screamed around the third turn into the home stretch, mentally clinging to the last rule.
Relax. Relax. Relax.
This rule provided poor protection as I slammed, legs wide and bottom first, into the crash pool.
I exited the pool, grateful to be alive.
My daughters quickly appeared with their mats and were ready to go again. I told them to go together and follow the rules.
Parenting is all about milestones. I had reached mine — the last slide.
Adam Jones works in the information technology field and lives with his family in Kempsville. Reach him a firstname.lastname@example.org.
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