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Adults need to remember the joy of having fun

My son asks to go to Sky Mania for his 14th birthday. Sky Mania is a great big metal barn housing an acre of trampolines. Trust me when I say you have never seen so many trampolines in one place.

The trampolines are bordered … by trampolines. Yes. You can even hurl yourself against the side of the room. At Sky Mania, kids are literally bouncing off the walls.

So, my boy sorts out his guest list and here we are, two adults and four eighth-graders wearing these little wristbands saying that we can jump from 6 to 7.

With a few minutes to kill, I go next door. Indoor skateboarding and biking. You know, the daredevils who swoop up and down those huge horseshoe inclines, twisting supernaturally in the air. How does the skateboard stay stuck to the kid? Velcro? These kids are good. Exciting to watch.

Back to Sky Mania. We gather for orientation. No sitting on top of the walls. No double flips. It’s against the rules to sit or lie down on the trampolines. If we need to rest, we have to come back here. How silly, I think. I paid to jump. Not to rest.

Twenty-five minutes later, I’m lying on the sideline. Not sure how I made it back. I’m drenched with sweat. Breath coming in heaves. “Is your dad OK?” I hear my son’s classmate ask. Nothing wrong with me that quality hospice care couldn’t fix, I think. Words like meniscus, patella and lateral colateral ligament come to mind.

But, as it looks like I might live after all, I sit and watch. It looks like a Spider-Man convention. Or a meeting of the Secret Society of Frog People. Or a bunch of pingpong balls. These kids aren’t merely having fun; their very bodies are rejoicing. I don’t see auras, but it’s easy to imagine green-white light exploding from the solar plexus every time they rocket their bodies into the sky. They whoop. They laugh. They scream “whoa” a lot. Paroxysms of joy.

These kids aren’t burning down any gymnasiums. There are no bullies here. These are not fat kids downing Cheetos while their eyes glaze over watching SpongeBob. No one is dealing drugs or using tobacco.

In this room, the kids are fearless. They aren’t even afraid of fear. Which means they feel safe.

Ironic, because kids do get hurt. There’s a young girl with an ice pack on a twisted ankle. Two boys bang heads, and a few tears spill. I think this is a place where bruises and bumps happen as a matter of course. Maybe even an occasional chipped tooth.

Come to think of it, how does this place stay open? Or the skaters’ paradise next door? I might be looking at the last place in America where kids are having fun on their own terms. As opposed to “fun” assigned to them by grown-ups, progressive educational philosophies and insurance liability actuarial tables.

At Sky Mania, the adult staffers are present and alert and provide all the necessary supervision. But they don’t intrude. Most of them are just big kids themselves.

Fun for its own sake? It’s a lost art in America, especially for adults.

When I was a boy, I would go to my friend’s house, knock on the door and ask my friend’s mom the $24 Million Question: “Can Paul come out and play?”

I mean, think about the question. For kids, fun is a very intentional and specific agenda. You ask for it out loud. If and when adults play at all, they have to pose the question indirectly: Wanna stop by for coffee? Wanna meet for lunch? Adults stash their fun in the ceremonial accident of eating, drinking or sensible activity.

Or they say: “Hey, Steven, would you like to spend several hours dropping $200 in a video poker machine while breathing secondhand smoke and listening to DING-DING-DING-DING and drinking unlimited free Coronas served by a woman who so should not be wearing that outfit? After that, we could go to a nightclub and shout at each other and breathe more smoke and drink more.”

Casinos and nightclubs exhaust me. Sky Mania exhausts me. But the two states of exhaustion are somehow very different.

I’m convinced human beings should play more. Fun is underrated.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@review journal.com.

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