What I Learned at the Bounce House

I am utterly convinced that 15 minutes in the Halloween Bounce House will completely prepare you for life.

I’ve just returned from my first-ever Bounce House Referee experience. I was appropriately dressed in flaming orange, as a pumpkin, since it was, well, a Halloween bounce house.  So I signed up to “volunteer,” which apparently means standing next to the door and making sure things don’t get out of control.

I have never been a parent so I can be tentative to work kid events. But I volunteer with children because I love them and want to serve the next generation. So I’m a newbie on bounce house culture.  Friends advised me on a few key things and I forged ahead.

About five minutes in, after witnessing Neil Armstrong attack Woody the Cowboy from Toy Story with a WWE-style hold, and seeing princesses emerge with their tiaras on backwards, I realized this was a microcosm of real life.

  1. If you can’t climb up the ramp to get into the house, then, maybe you’re too small. Or maybe your princess tutu is too puffy. At any rate, at times you must reassess your fitness for the battle ahead and perhaps patronize the baby bounce house next store for a while, to sharpen your skills.
  2. Things will be spilled on the floor. That’s life, it gets messy. One can only hope that it came out of a water bottle instead of a human orifice.  Sometimes as a grownup you just have to get down on your hands and knees and clean up after someone you’re responsible for, before other grownups start complaining. (To the woman who did so this evening, I applaud you, way to “mom up.”)
  3. You will lose stuff. Your ninja hat will come off in the slide and you will lose a sock or two. This will render your costume incomplete, and you’ll be sad.  Get used to it. In life we try to wear masks but the hurly-burly of life rips the mask off. And in the end everyone who truly loves you still thinks you are way cute because they don’t remember what the full getup looked like to begin with.
  4. The bigger kids will take over. But only for a while. Hang out in the corner and they will eventually get bored and leave. There is always somebody bigger, stronger, and higher-bouncing. They make a bunch of waves in the floor but learn to keep your balance and wait it out.
  5. Only dumb-dumbs jump with DumDums in their mouths. Before entering a veritable mosh pit, check your equipment and preparedness.
  6. Remember what shoes you were wearing.  Because when you come out dazed and confused and the sun’s gone down, you have to find your sandals in the pile.  So, take stock of what’s important before you go into the fray so you can find it again when you’re done.

    Actually I had a flashback tonight, seeing the pile of shoes kids shed before entering the bounce house.  I have this recurring dream where I somehow lose my shoes. A few nights ago I dreamed I was down to only one shoe, for every single shoe in my closet. I suspect this is a variant of the “speaking naked in front of a crowd” dream.  Or it’s a dream about feeling hobbled, because there’s a limit to what you can do without shoes. (Too deep for a humor piece?)  Or it may be a memory of visiting Asian temples where you have to remove your shoes and put them in a pile with literally hundreds of guests, and worrying the whole time you’re looking at the amazing jade Buddha from the 15th century that someone is going to steal your $150 Merrills. (Lesson: Don’t wear expensive shoes while temple-visiting in Asia.)

    In any case, I just hope everybody found their own shoes after I left. It would not surprise me if some parents keep spare pairs of shoes in the car.

  7.  Listen to voices of reason.  When you’re curled up in a corner, and you’re too small to see the exit, and someone recognizable says, “Follow my voice,” yeah, that’s a very good time to do what they say. Always remember somebody loves you, especially when you feel like the only one out there who loves you is God himself, and follow that voice.
  8. Smiles go a long way.  To take up the story of Neil Armstrong and Woody, both smiled throughout the throw-down.  I think I know Woody’s grandma but I’ve never met him before. He smiled at me while being pinned and I laughed. He then became my friend for life, relating everything that he experienced. That is the way life should be. Friends made easily with a smile and a shared experience.
  9. Take time to wonder and adventure.  I commented to a friend tonight, “The littlest ones all have the same look on their face as kittens leaving the box for the first time.” I was captivated. I read an article this week about studies on infants following a parent’s gaze, and how important that is to human development.  If the parent looks at it, it’s gotta be important.

    My first-timer bounce house “kittens” would look at the door to the jumping extravaganza, then look at a loving parent, and the parent would look up at the door too, and point with a finger or their chins. The child’s gaze followed the parent’s and fixed on the door. And in an instant they’d decide. “Let’s go.” That, my friends, is the essence of life lived daily, on the edge, trusting in a guide implicitly and going for it, whatever “it” is. Just, be careful who your guide is.

As my shift ended, with no major injuries thankfully, someone I consider to be a super-mom tapped me on the shoulder and said “I’m your relief. What are the rules here?” And I realized that my inexperience was OK, that real-life moms make it up as they go along, that there’s really no cosmic, all-inclusive mom-manual, even if they have kids 24-7. Life moves fast for everybody.  Just make sure you know where you put your shoes.



  1. Penne says:

    You Have a future in ghost writing for the late Irma Bombeck. I thoroughly enjoyed your recitation of life experiences in the bounce world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: