A few weeks I took my daughter to a bounce house place. You know the kind- meant for birthday parties, with huge colorful inflatables, loud music blasting out of the speakers, and the smell of stale pizza in the air. We were supposed to meet up with our friends for a play date, however, winter bugs have already made their way through preschools, (even though temperatures haven’t fallen), and they had to cancel last minute. Having just gotten over colds ourselves, I decided to go anyway, without our friends, so my daughter could bounce her heart out.
We had the whole place to ourselves! Not one other child came to play the whole time we were there. At first I thought- wow, this is great! She can run and play, jump, climb…no one will bump into her or knock her down, she can do whatever she wants. This will be so much fun.
Well, when we walked inside, she took one long look around and said, “Mommy, I don’t like this place.”
Hold the phone. What? What do you mean? How can you not like this place? It’s a kid’s paradise.
I had to take a step back and remember who my daughter was. Despite my husband and I trying our best to encourage her in every situation, she is fearful in nature. Always has been, even as a toddler. She used to hide behind me at group play dates or grab a toy and play at my feet. Slides used to make her nervous and once she got to the top, I had to climb up and get her as she cried, paralyzed. That is who she is. We’ve seen her grow and change as she has gotten older, especially once we sent her to preschool this fall. Yet she still has her moments. Moments where I have to be the one to encourage her, change the mood.
Just when I thought we’d have to pack it up and head home, after all it took to get us here (waiting for the youngest to wake up from his nap, fixing lunches, then a twenty minute drive), I coaxed her into going inside one of the bouncy houses with me. I exclaimed, “This is so much fun!” while jumping into the air and ignoring her brother who immediately started to cry. He wasn’t too fond of the place either. And he really didn’t like being left alone in his stroller. My daughter sighed, pouted, and sat her butt down on the floor.
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Like I said, it was empty. Music was blaring. Bounce houses loomed above us, vacant and dark. It was eerie. Intimidating. Like an opening scene of a horror movie. Who’s hiding in the bounce house? I don’t want to know…
Then, I spotted an air hockey table. Surely she would like that! I wheeled brother over to the hockey table and unstrapped him. He was boogery mess, still getting over a cold. He wiped his tears all over my shoulder. I held him on my hip, tapped the puck back and forth, trying to explain how to play the game. She wasn’t too impressed. The puck is too hard to hit, Mom. Sigh. What else, what else?
I spotted another inflatable that had a giant cushion type thing in the center. I didn’t know what it is, but it looked like fun. She could climb it, maybe slide down it. I used my best cheery voice and rushed over to it. Brother had to wait a minute. I hoped a toy would distract him in the stroller long enough for me to spend some time playing with her inside. With no one around, I didn’t mind making a fool of myself. We jumped together, made a game out of it- a game of tag, around the pillowy center. We ran, fast, she giggled as she looked back at me, a huge smile on her face. Ah. There we go. We were having fun!
I chased her and then she chased me, we fell, laughing, and got back up again. She climbed the pillow and slid down, as I counted at the top of my lungs. I clapped, I praised her, I told her that she was the best climber, the best at going down slides. She ate it up and went down again and again. Of course I had to grab her baby brother at this point as he was freaking out over being left alone for more than five minutes and I helped her climb up, one handed, brother back on my hip.
I collapsed in a heap on the bounce house floor with brother in my lap. We watched her twirl around us as she laughed and I chanted “Go girl go!” over and over again. I cheered her on, showed her that I was still having fun and playing even though I had to sit down with her baby brother.
The fact of the matter is, I’m her biggest cheerleader. I will be, for the rest of her life. I will be the one to support her, to encourage her, to cheer her on. No one else will, not like me, (besides her father, of course). I will cheer when she learns how to ride a bike for the first time, when she wins an award at school, when she stars in her first play or dance. I will watch her walk across that stage, be there when she picks out her prom dress, when she marries the love of her life. Funny how all this occurred to me as I watched her prance around a bounce house, without a care in the world. This is only the beginning, after all. I know I will face even more challenges, bigger than encouraging her to play. And I will be there every step of the way.