It used to be, when my two daughters gave this war cry, I wouldn't even flinch. They'd scream their challenge, and I'd laugh maniacally in response. Next, they would begin their approach, often thrashing and flailing at one another for the right of first ascendants--a dubious honor, since the first up was always immediately crushed by the second--and then the demands would start.
"Go where?" I'd ask innocently.
"Try and throw us off," they'd respond, often while bouncing or pounding on my back insistently.
"I'm so comfortable," I'd lie, manfully ignoring the possibility that this refusal would result in a crushed vertebra. "Yes, yes, I believe it's time for a nap!"
Usually, around that time, my wife the realist would say, "One of you is going to get hurt."
"Daddy!" both girls would shriek, intensifying their bouncing and pounding, and completely ignoring their mother's admonition.
Suddenly, the sleeping jungle gym would spring to life, and giggling little girls would be tossed hither and yon. Occasionally, Mommy would be proven right, and one or another of the young adventurers would be scuffed or bruised during the thrilling fall. But, after all, what fun are adventures if all the risk is taken away?
Alas, it is a universal truth that little girls get bigger, and also that daddies get older. A week ago on Saturday, my youngest daughter, now aged eleven, was curled up on the bed in our bedroom, watching her mother and sister sort through that day's collection of letters, bills, and junk mail. I had abandoned my chair in the far corner of the boudoir, and instead chosen to sprawl out on the floor as close as possible to the mail sorting festivities. When Amanda, the youngest, spied me in my vulnerable and relaxed state, the temptation for mischief proved to be too great to resist.
"Jungle gym!" she shouted, and threw herself into the attack.
I must confess, I flinched.
Unfortunately, during her descent, one of Amanda's feet got caught in-between myself and the wooden frame of the bed, and was severely twisted in the process. Fun was instantly transmuted into pain, and a crying little girl was dumped unceremoniously on to my back.
What followed was pure pandemonium. Amanda was sobbing, her mother and sister were consoling, and I was sitting by her feet, wondering how serious her injury might be. At one point, perhaps after exhausting her supply of comforting words, my wife commented, "I told you not to play with Daddy like that. You always get hurt when he plays with you."
"Dude," I objected, "I was just lying on the floor," but I still felt guilty.
Eventually, we were able to examine Amanda's foot, and discovered that although scraped and quite painful, limited movement was still possible. An ice pack and medicine were fetched, and I lifted my baby back into bed.
Even though she was strongly encouraged to stay still and let her foot completely recover, it wasn't long before boredom set in, and we found her hopping around the house, a precariously balanced flamingo on a mission. Almost as soon as we resettled her in one location, she would be up, intent on traveling to a new destination. By the time evening arrived, she was managing to limp more than hop, although I noticed that the self-prognosis remained rather bleak.
"Does it still feel sore?" I asked her at one point when we were sitting in the back yard.
"Yes," she responded instantly.
"Well, I know you had ice on it earlier," I told her, "but sometimes I've found that heat helps relax sore muscles. What do you think about soaking your foot in the hot tub for a bit?"
She considered, and then decided, "I think I'll just sit on the edge and put my feet in the water. That way I can get out if it's too uncomfortable."
Shortly thereafter, Amanda was sitting on the edge of the hot tub with both feet immersed, and I was relaxing in one of the far corners.
"Daddy," she said after a bit of companionable silence, "may I have a potato chip?"
"H'm," I hummed, thinking through the possible ramifications of granting her request, "I suppose that would be all right."
I moved to the side of the hot tub which was next to the table containing the potato chips, and handed Amanda one so she wouldn't have to stretch for the bag.
"Did you know," I said while surrendering the morsel to her, "that it's impossible to eat just one chip?"
"well sure. Think about it," I challenged, "can you ever remember eating just one chip before?"
"No," she admitted, "I can't."
"Besides," I continued, "even if you could, there's a law against eating just one chip."
"So," she said, taking another offering from me, "what happens if you do eat only one?"
"Oh," I said, my voice hushed, "that's a very serious situation. There are actually potato chip policemen, and they are stationed close by whenever a bag of potato chips is being eaten." I leaned in closer, and whispered, "They wear little potato chip police hats."
Amanda giggled, turning her head from side to side, "I don't see any policemen back here."
I scoffed, "You think they're going to stand out in the open where just anyone can see them? I'll have you know the men and women in the potato chip police force are trained in the very best undercover procedures. The only time a person sees one is when they're snapping on the handcuffs because of a chip violation."
"And," she asked, still not sounding completely convinced for some reason, "where do they take people who get arrested?"
"Why to potato chip prison of course." I hesitated for a second. "Guess what they eat there?"
"Potato chips!" responded my clever child enthusiastically.
"Yes," I agreed, "and they have to eat them all day long."
"That sounds like paradise," Amanda sighed, accepting yet another bit of salty goodness from my hand.
In the end, I'm not sure whether it was the soak or the snack which did the most good, but Amanda's self-prognosis seemed much improved by the time we got out of the hot tub. In fact, by the time Monday rolled around, she was able to resume most of her school activities with little or no difficulty.
I think I've finally decided to put an end to all the jungle gym nonsense however. Besides the risk of further girlita injuries, there's my back to consider. You see, unlike the potato chip police, the backbone police enforce a very strict policy.
"There can be only one!"