When my family moved from a tiny beach community on Long Island to suburban Connecticut, one of the words my father couldn’t stop uttering was “liability.”
In Point Lookout, our lot size had been a tidy 80-by-100, so as my father looked out over his new acre of overgrown lawn, collapsed rock walls, and pine and maple trees hovering near power lines, his heart sped.
When he examined the neglected swimming pool, he saw potential lawsuits lining up like bathing beauties in a Busby Berkeley musical.
Before we had unpacked the silverware, my father and a few of us Wilder boys had erected a childproof fence with a self-closing gate illuminated by a series of safety lights bright enough to make any girl think twice about skinny dipping. Instead of greeting our new neighbors with freshly baked muffins, my dad handed them a general liability release form that needed to be notarized before they could even think of crossing the street to say hello.
My wife Lala, on the other hand, spent her summers riding heavy farm machinery bareback in Utah, so she thought it would be a good idea if we bought a trampoline for the kids. She extolled the virtues of daily exercise, sibling bonding and a more picturesque place to exile our children when they expressed what they believed to be their freedom of speech.
While she was talking, I couldn’t help but think like my old man: When she said fresh air, I pictured fresh bone breaks; when she said exercise, I envisioned lacerated exoepidermis. Instead of scoffing at the idea and truly morphing into my dad, I did extensive research, pouring over injury statistics, case studies and hospital records. I even went populist on my own ass, conducting a straw poll on a social networking site. What I uncovered was that although trampoline injuries do occur, they are not as frequent as sports-related wounds or kids jumping off the top rung of a dining room chair ala Nacho Libre. In fact, I heard from parents whose children adored their bouncing beds so much they spent endless hours talking on them and creating makeshift huts to sleep in when the weather was agreeable. I ignored a former student who highlighted the saucy behaviors of teenagers with access to a 15-foot canvas sheet with springs.
So Lala and I bought the sturdiest model we could find (with safety netting and more padding than a NFL lineman) and, just to be sure, we hired someone who had previously put one together to assemble the circus structure in our backyard. After I watched the kids survive their first giant leaps for Wilderkind, I knew what I had to do.
“Dad,” I said over the phone. “I need to tell you something.” In my free hand, I clutched a glass of wine and from where I stood in the kitchen, I could see the sun setting over our new Thunderdome that had turned my son London and daughter Poppy into human kangaroos. “I bought a trampoline.”
“You really did?” He sounded startled, like I was half-joking about spending our savings on a Lamborghini, waxing my body hair with duct tape or voting for Al Gore.
A long pause full of deep inhales and purposed clickings of the tongue followed.
“Well, hope you have a good orthopedic surgeon.”
I relayed all the positive aspects of trampolining—strength and fitness, blood and oxygen flow, even digestion, which I knew he’d appreciate, but he wasn’t sold. But how could I sell him? A man who took out life insurance when we were born so that our future (and perhaps indigent?) wives didn’t have to worry about burial costs.
“At least get them some goddamn classes,” he growled.
I assured him there was a trampoline school just a hop, skip and jump away.
Rob Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, Daddy Needs A Drink, appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.