My daughter got in the car recently, cautiously excited about an invitation to a birthday party.
"Momma, I got invited to a party. It's from my friend Lyla. You like her. You said she's a nice girl."
I knew from the pitch there was a catch. It had the tone of a salesman hocking an item you sort of want to buy at a price you don't want to pay. I waited for the caveat.
"Well, Momma, Lyla invited me to her birthday party. She invited the whole class. The only thing is, it's at the Trampoline Park, and you said I can't go there." Her little voice trailed off.
"Sorry honey," I said. "We just can't go there anymore."
"But momma," began the pleas.
"But all my friends will be there."
"I'm really sorry, but you can't go. It's not safe."
Heavy tears, the kind that will break your heart if you haven't seen them a thousand times before.
"But Momma, I'll be the only one left out. I'm worried that I won't be invited anymore."
"I know, sweetie," I said. I really did hate for her to feel excluded. "We'll send a gift. That will let her know you care about her."
This went on and on, with me explaining how an untimely injury could derail both her position on our local Junior Olympics track team and her burgeoning piano career, and with her wondering aloud why she had to do piano anyway.
The Trampoline Park is a hot ticket in our community. When you have a party there, almost everyone RSVPs "Yes." When we go there on a Friday, we can count on four or five parties running simultaneously. To quote Fats Waller, this joint is jumping. But it's also crowded and dangerous, with kids springing up and down like human popcorn, and with little kids and teenagers bouncing in the same areas. It's really scary to watch.
Another scary thing is the release form. Anytime an institution meets you at the door with a waiver consistent with consent to be shot out of a canon, it sends up red flags. In this case, it was two pages of legalese saying something to the effect of... On behalf of myself, my spouse, my children, my minor children, my parents, my heirs, my personal representative and my estate, I understand that my child may be injured, maimed or killed in this place, and I hold it blameless. I'm paraphrasing a little. The aforementioned was written in elegant, legally binding language, but the message was clear: Bounce at your own risk. To cement the deal, the young associate requested both my driver's license number and my husband's driver's license number.
Big... red... flag.
These party venue waivers aren't foreign to us. Most venues require one. Birthday parties at the gymnastics center require us to sign a waiver saying that, although no one has been maimed or killed here yet, it could happen. Again, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
A similar waiver for a school fundraiser in which the kids run in circles for 20 minutes required us to sign a form saying that, in the event of injury or death, the sponsors are excused from liability even if the associates prove to be negligent. The bounce house arena, a popular birthday venue, requires the signing of a waiver saying that, in the event of a lawsuit the parent agrees to pay both the plaintiff's and the defendant's legal fees.
So waivers warning of loss of life, limb, and income aren't uncommon for these places. But, unlike the gymnastics center, which could boast that no one had actually been maimed or killed yet, the Trampoline Park couldn't say that. Rumors abound of people being hurt there. In fact on our last visit three of the boys in our party were hurt badly enough to be carried out crying before cake was served.
With each accident, we all gathered around the parent holding the injured child. The parent insisted it was no big deal as the child's wails contradicted him. We onlookers offered words of comfort. Sorry you got hurt. Sorry you have to leave. Sorry you're not going to get cake.
The third parent to ferry out his injured child was an orthopedic surgeon. As he held his crying son, he mentioned that he had seen several patients in his office who had been injured at that very place, which begs the question: What the heck were we doing there?
I asked one of the mothers this question in private, and she said, "The kids really like it. We just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."
Hope for the best?!
Maybe I'm overprotective, or maybe I'm old-fashioned, or maybe I'm just that mom, but it didn't make sense for me to continue taking my child to a place where injuries regularly occur just because kids like it.
I prayed in that moment, "God, if you get us out of here without serious injury, I promise not to come back." God kept his end of the bargain that day, so I figure I should keep mine. No more parties at the Trampoline Park. We're sending a gift instead.
Hal Hutchison, M.Ed.
Hal Wofford Hutchison, M.Ed., is a former columnist, writer and editor for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette newspapers. She has also been a secondary educator, and a university counselor and administrator. She lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her husband of 23 years and their daughter.