In complete innocence I accompanied my daughter to playtime at a kids’ gym, so I could hold the baby while she chased the three-year-old, or I could chase the three-year-old while she nursed the baby. It was one of those places with balance beams six inches off the floor, and swings and trampolines. Lots of padded vinyl. And a foam pit. Remember the foam pit.
My first clue should have been the release form I was required to sign as an adult going on to the floor. But I naively gave it no thought. What could possibly happen?
It happened soon enough, a situation that is not mentioned in the Grandma Manual. I pulled first watch for the three-year-old, who sprinted the length of the gym and hurled himself into the foam pit. This is a pit the size of a large living room, several feet deep, filled with foam cubes and spheres. They were fancier than the ones I’d seen at the other gym, covered with padded fabric. I thought that was a nice touch.
Anyway, my grandson was having trouble getting himself out of the pit. So I crouched close to the edge to give him a hand. Unfortunately, with my attention focused on rescuing my grandson, I didn’t notice that the edge I chose was rounded. I lost my footing and dived headfirst into the pit (under the banner that says “DO NOT DIVE HEAD FIRST INTO THE FOAM PIT”). My head met my grandson’s head with a nasty clunk.
“Why did you do that?” he asked. Why indeed?
“It was an accident,” I told my dear grandson, overwhelmed by the sea of foam surrounding me. My head ached. I wanted out immediately. But I couldn’t move. Little people who weigh less than fifty pounds kind of float on top of the foam. Adults sink. I was trapped, helpless. The lovely padded fabric stuck to my clothes like giant burrs. I couldn’t move myself, not even one inch. The harder I struggled, the worse it got, like slowly being sucked in by quicksand.
I was well and truly panicked, my mind traveling multiple tracks. There wasthe fatalistic track – “I’m going to die in this foam pit.” I wondered how many other adults had died here, and if their bodies had been recovered, or if they were lurking under all that foam. There was the embarrassment track – I felt like a complete idiot. There was the feeling-out-of-control track – how could this have happened? There was the bad-grandma track – by this time my grandson had managed to extricate himself after all, and was poised to dash all over the gym, unsupervised.
The large, muscular, tattooed dad of another little kid grabbed my hand in a rescue attempt. I’m a rather small adult, but Mr. Muscles was no match for the evil foam that would not give me up.
One of the moms found a viny-covered wedge and stuck it out over the edge for me, like the offer of a stick to a drowning person. I couldn’t reach it, but the gesture gave me hope. Courage overcame panic, and I decided not to die in the foam pit. I began flinging cubes and spheres out of my way, one by one, until I reached the edge and heaved myself out of that pit like a flopping flounder being reeled onto a fishing boat.
What a relief! What a headache! (My grandson was fine). What a sweaty mess I was! And my emotional equilibrium had been completely wrecked by the realization of how little control I have over my life, and how quickly the unexpected can happen. I vowed to be more vigilant the next time somebody makes me sign a waiver.
I called my doctor’s office later that afternoon, because I still had a headache. I was given a list of things to be on the lookout for, one of them being strange and unexplained behavior. My family may have been wondering, “How would we be able to tell?”, but that’s a topic for another day.
In the meantime, I have a new and healthy respect for foam pits. And so should you.