The Bounce House Affect

“Hey J, I think Iris is scared to go down the slide,” my husband says. “You need to get in there and help her.”
Here we are again, another kids party with a bounce house, and I’m being overcome by bounce house syndrome, aka: poor parenting.
“But I don’t want to go in there,” I mumble through my enormous bite of bagel and schmear. My eyes start to droop; I’m getting sleepy. Any parental vigilance is slipping away fast. It’s the bounce house affect once again.
I don’t know what it is about these giant inflatable playgrounds that have the strangest affect on parents, myself a classic victim. The moment my kids remove their hot garbage shoes and socks I mentally check out. “Have fun,” I yawn as they tumble through the greasy flap. And I’m off to find someone over twenty to chat with, or better yet, go get myself another bagel from the refreshment table. Carb coma, here we come.
Something about that black mesh net on the bounce house befuddles my vigilance about safety. A minute ago I was worried my daughter might step on a red ant pile as we walked through the grass.
Now she’s tumbling around a rubber sweat chamber with kids thirty pounds heavier than her and I’m like, “Oh, cool, they have Austin Java here.” And I’m walking away from my unattended children in the bounce house. I can’t really see what’s going on past the mesh net, unless I put my face up to it. Chances are I’d get a fast broken nose by a body-slamming toddler, so I stay back, in fact, I stay way back. I tell myself it’s better this way.

It’s like I NEED the chance to not care. It feels so good to walk away from the contained chaos. It feels like an honest to goodness 20 minute vacation. I’m stirring cream into my coffee and chatting it up hard with another mom when one of my offspring finds me.
“Mom,” Ace runs up. He’s already sweating. His clammy hand pulls my arm, “A boy in there pushed me!” And what comes out of my mouth next is the bounce house affect in full force, “Well, get in there and rough somebody up!”
It’s me saying it. I mean I can hear the words exit my mouth, but I don’t recognize myself.
Ace smiles big and sloppy, like I just said, “I want you to throw your vegetables against the wall at every meal.”
He runs away leaping for joy…cause his world-class mom just told him to push little kids.
I’m about to call him back and say the right thing. But my head is foggy. The whir of the generator that keeps inflatable play inflatable has lulled my conscience once again.

Wikipedia tells me that bounce houses, in all their gleeful variety, became popular during the 90’s, which would explain why I don’t remember playing on them when I was a child of the 80’s. Weirdly, bounce houses have become features at parties in over 6 different countries. If you type “inflatable” into Google, the algorithm will finish that commonly typed word with “rental industry.” It seems you can’t have a kids party without inflatable play.
Perhaps bounce houses are becoming the equivalent of yesteryears nearly always safe neighborhoods, where it was just fine to ride off on bikes with friends.   When tired Mom could say, “Go ahead, have an adventure with your friends for a few hours.” Off you’d go on bikes into the woods while Mom sat with her coffee and bagel with schmear. A few minutes of alone time with heavy carbs is all she asks for sometimes.
It isn’t likely that we, the parents, will return to a trusting cultural standard any time soon, so we make do. We call the bounce house rental company and have them haul over a giant rubber castle. Our kids will love it, we think. And they do.
The bounce affect will overcome all the parents at the party. And for a brief time we’ll feel that all is well.
“Mommy, I went down the slide all by myself!” Iris is at my side, drenched in sweat.
“Ata girl” I high five her, and off she goes again, back through the greasy flap, into the weird and wonderful realm of THE BOUNCE HOUSE.

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