The time when I did a jump
Following a trip to a ‘Christmas Light Experience’ last year, my eldest daughter decided that trampolines are the best thing on this godforsaken planet. How did she come to that conclusion? Pitch black darkness, a cold wind piercing skin and scratching bone, and the intoxicating smoke from a nearby fire pit laid the backdrop for the most exciting 5 minutes of jumping on a trampoline that she had ever experienced. Since then, every night before bed, she regales me of the time she jumped on the trampoline. This tale ends with sadness because we had to leave, cutting the jumping session short. Are we bad parents for saying the park was closing? Quite possibly, but it was fucking freezing.
Wracked with guilt, we thought it was only fair that we took her to a local indoor trampoline park. Emphasis on indoor, my balls still haven’t grown back to their former size. After days, weeks, and months, the day was finally here. Will it be everything she had dreamed of? Of course not.
We booked in for 9 am — the toddler session. It was early because everything is early when it’s to do with kids. The people organising these things quite rightly assume that you’ll be awake early anyway. I knew all this before playing Elden Ring till 2 am that morning. It didn’t deter me, I’m addicted to it, and I also like to ensure that I tinge everything I do with absolute tiredness. Picture my face then, when I finally snuck into bed, and my youngest daughter woke up screaming her head off. She continued to spend the rest of the night waking up in tears. The day prior, she had her one-year vaccinations, and this wasn't any old simple jab in the arm. They jabbed her in every single limb. That’ll do it.
I woke up at 6:30 from the most broken sleep I’ve had in recent memory. My eldest is excited. My eyes are stinging. She’s already jumping around the house, telling us, and our neighbours through the wall, of the day that lays out before her.
“We’re going to the trampoline place and I’m going to jump and then we’re going to the toy shop after to get a Hatchimal”.
It was her birthday this week and she had some money to spend. She’d also asked for a Hatchimal, a message we didn’t pass onto the family. We didn’t do it out of spite. It’s just that every single toy advert was met with “can I have this for my birthday?” and there’s a point where you shut that out.
As anyone with kids will know, you never manage to leave the house on time. Yet, the grace of gods must’ve been shining upon us that morning because we managed to not only leave the house ahead of time but also arrived at the place 10 minutes before opening.
“We’re here!” I cry with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.
“Daddy. There doesn’t appear to be any trampolines here”
“It’s the car park, sweetie”
We join the queue. My eldest can hardly contain her excitement. Someone ahead of us hadn’t booked. I’m not judging, but if they had booked, we wouldn’t all be stood in the queue. Just saying. We’re finally called to the desk.
“I’m booked in for the toddler session, it’s Kieran McClung”
“Perfect, did you watch the video?”
Cut back to me, just before leaving our house.
“Oh, tell them you watched the video. You have to watch it before going in” my wife said.
“Well, do I actually have to watch it? Does it not contain something important?”
“Nah, they won’t care”
Not for wanting to risk being questioned about the contents of the video I’d not seen, I told them the truth and was ushered to a room. My eldest and I had to endure a 5-minute safety video. The first half was very covid-centric, telling people not to visit if they have covid, or symptoms of. I can’t help but feel that ship has very much sailed for the covid-positive people sat watching the vid. The only thing that stood out during the video was the following:
“Please do not use the equipment if you have any health conditions, problems breathing, or any injuries”
A full house is it! I’ll keep quiet.
The video finished and the lady who’d escorted us to the room provided us both with wristbands.
“Will she let me put this on her wrist?” she asked while looking at my daughter.
“Yeah, she’ll be fine”
The lady approached my daughter, wristband first. My daughter screamed and ran to the opposite corner of the room where she crouched there cowering.
“Ah, maybe not then”
We finally make our way to the lockers. I empty my pockets and take off my belt, as per the instructions in the video, but immediately regret the decision because my jeans are far too small and have to sit beneath my paunch. Physics dictate that these jeans won’t stay on my hips without a belt so there’s a very real risk that some kids are getting scarred for life today. We don our lovely little socks and head out to the trampolines.
“Look at all the trampolines! Which one do you want to go on? There’s a little one there”
“I don’t want to go on a trampoline!” she huffed.
My last morsel of positivity shattered. I’m sure if you were looking at me at that moment, you'd see exactly when I died inside.
“Why don’t you want to go on one?”
“I just don’t. I want to go on the bouncy castle”
The 'bouncy castle' in question was a giant inflatable obstacle course type thing with slides, ball pools, etc. At least it was something though. We climb onto the inflatable. She takes her first jump and fear fills her face.
“It’s too bouncy!”
Then, before I can do anything, a heavy-set man comes walking by her. His weight pulls both of them down and all I see is her panicked little face as she’s swallowed into the vinyl abyss. I bounce over, further adding to the pull of the material and pick her up. There were no tears, which was fortunate because I found the whole thing fucking hilarious. This was my very own personal 'Why Father?' meme but IRL. Upon scooping her up, she shouts at the top of her voice:
“That man just stood on me!”
I ushered her to a quiet area of the inflatable mainly to save the chap, who did apologise, from being taken down for assaulting a minor.
“This is too scary, let’s do something else”
We both left the inflatable and headed back towards the lockers.
The total jump time so far is sitting under 2 minutes but she’d eyed up a couple of arcade claw machines upon our entrance so we had a wander over.
“Daddy! I’d like a toy, please”
“Ahh, well you aren’t guaranteed to win one, sweetie”
Immediately upon saying that, I saw the words on the machine 'guaranteed win'. Touché, machine, touché. I had some change on me. Why not? Feeling all ‘daddy big bollocks’ I made the stupid mistake of asking her which toy she wanted.
“I’d like the pink one, Daddy!”
I position the claw, press the button, the claw lowers.
“I’d like the green one instead” she interrupts.
I start willing the claw to be unsuccessful. It slowly makes its way down towards the toy before jolting out of the way at the last minute, grabbing thin air. Thank fuck for that! I reposition the claw towards the back of the machine where the green toy is situated. I hit the button, the claw goes down, it misses.
“I don’t think I can reach it” I said.
We’re five attempts in at this point and I can sense that someone is watching me in disgust as I consistently fail to win anything on a machine that has the message 'guaranteed win' emblazoned upon its body. I go rogue. A panda is sitting proudly in the middle of the machine. I angle the claw, hit the button, and bam! I’ve snagged it. The claw retracts and the panda wobbles. It slips slightly but manages to find its way to the win hole. I’ve never felt so alive. A moment that was stolen from me in an instant.
“Noo! I wanted the green one”
Then came the tears.
“Daddy! Please, I really want the green one”
Exceptionally loud crying joined the tears. Her cries somehow managed to overpower the music blasting from an overhead speaker.
“Sorry, sweetie. I couldn’t reach the green one”
“But I don’t want the white one!”
“Okay, why don’t you give it to your sister to make her feel better?”
“No! I want it”
To soften the blow, we had a go on the sweetie grabber that sat next to the toy one. We won, again, because it too was guaranteed. She won a Chupa Chup lolly. My eldest is three. She’s never had a lolly like that before for fear of her choking on it. But after the ordeal of winning the wrong toy, I said she could have it. What followed then felt like an eternity. This was mainly since it took her a fucking age to eat it, but I was staring at her profusely, praying that it didn’t come away from the stick, get lodged in her throat, and kill her. Being a parent is spending 99% of the time worrying that something is going to kill them.
There were no clocks about the place and my phone was in the locker but I could sense our hour of play was drawing close to an end.
“Right, sweetie. We’ll have to go home soon so would you like to have a go on the trampoline?”
“Yes, but I want to finish my lolly first”
The lolly was still somehow the same size as it was when she started it.
“We’re going to have to throw it in the bin if you want to play. We can’t take food with us”
She begrudgingly obliged.
Lolly discarded, we took to the stairs and headed to the trampolines again.
“This one looks good” I said, trying to coax her into spending at least some time doing the thing she’s wittered on about for the last few months.
She takes to the trampoline and does a few jumps.
“This is amazing, daddy! It’s not scary”
She then jumps from trampoline to trampoline, asking permission to do so before each jump for some reason. She’s finally living her dream.
“Daddy, you jump with me!”
I decide to join in, on a neighbouring trampoline, of course, the safety video forbids double-jumping. I take one step on the trampoline and my back immediately goes. Pain shot across from left to right. I do a solitary jump and withdraw to the edge. A guy of a similar age stands next to me. He’s nursing his knee. We give each other a knowing look. A look that acknowledges our pitiful fragility.
My daughter is in her element. She's still bouncing to and fro, shouting about how much fun she's having. And then a whistle blows. A whistle signalling the end of our session. She didn’t hear it through the excitement.
“Errm. We have to go now, sweetie. We’ve run out of time”
You thought the crying was loud from the crane game did you, Kieran?
Five whole minutes of crying ensued while I was fumbling everything out of our locker. Trying to feed the foot of an inconsolable child into a Velcro’d shoe while other families were reaching over me to access their lockers was the icing on this shitty cake.
“Come on, sweetie. We can come back another day”
“I don’t want to go home!!”
“We’ve still got the toy shop to go to”
Her cries subside.
We’re back in the car now and she’s calmed down. The toy shop is only a few minutes away. It’s a toy shop she’s not been to before. It’s very big.
“Is this the toy shop?” she asks, as we drive past every shop that isn’t the toy shop.
“No, but we’re nearly there”
We pull up, park up, and get out.
“Wow!!” she exclaims.
“Can I play with all these?”
“Ah, you can’t play with them in the shop, sweetie. We buy one to take home”
“But I want to play”
“Let’s just go in and get your Hatchimal”
“Yay! Hatchimal! Hatchimal! Hatch-ih-maal!!”
This was accompanied by an impromptu dance.
We enter the shop and she’s taken aback. It’s pretty big to be fair. A shop that would’ve blown my damn mind as a kid. It had obviously blown hers too. We hurried down every aisle.
“I want that! Ooh! I want that! Daddy! Look at that!!”
This turned into a 40-minute jog around the shop.
“We’re going to have to go now, what toy would you like?”
“Aww, okay, Daddy! I’ll have this one” she said with an exasperated tone while pointing to a £200 bouncy castle that she definitely wasn’t having.
“That’s a bit expensive, sweetie. Did you want your Hatchimal?”
“Barbie car? Ben & Holly toys? PJ Masks? Peppa Pig??”
“No, let’s go look for another”
“We have to go sweet-“
“I want that!!”
I turn to look where she’s pointing. In a shop filled with wonder, she’s picked that?
“Are you sure you want that?”
“Yes, daddy! Pleeeaaase!!”
“But, are you really sure? Once we’ve got it, we can’t come back to get another”
“I want it! I want it!”
“You definitely don’t want anything else"
“No. I want this”
It was a toy fucking microwave.
The drive home was accompanied by a chant of “Microwave! Microwave!” as though my daughter was secretly inducted into some kind of fast food cult while were in the shop. We made it home and she excitedly hurried into the house.
“Mummy! Look what I’ve got!”
My wife had the same 'what is this shit?' look on her face that I’d expected. But my daughter was happy. She gave the toy we’d won to my youngest daughter and then set off microwaving plastic food.
I'd completed the morning. I grabbed a celebratory drink from the kitchen; summer fruits squash if you were wondering. Mid-sip I hear a sad cry from the living room.
“But I wanted the Hatchimal toy”