Every fortnight or so I’m drawn out of my world of books, political analysis, and rock videos to tag along on an outing with my granddaughters, ages four and five. Their father works weekends, so it's likely to be me, my daughter, and the girls, and on a Saturday, when a place like Bullwinkle’s Family Fun Center in Wilsonville, OR is mobbed.
Everything’s an adjustment from the moment the outing begins. The minivan’s interior needs a thorough cleaning, but I don’t say anything. Getting the kids into their child seats is an ordeal I remember dimly, when I last strapped my own kids in. I offer to drive, and since the van has a back-up mirror I’m constantly reminded that I don’t have to crane through the rearview mirror when backing up.
Entering Bullwinkle’s is an aural maelstrom. The wilding children of America (and elsewhere no doubt) let loose. There are grandfathers like me standing outside the front entrance, taking a moment to hear themselves think. Every conceivable entertainment franchise is represented in the arcade. Jurassic Park T-Rexes bearing down, the player’s only hope a recoilless rifle. Batman, in mortal combat with a Nicholson-reminiscent Joker. Grab a virtual guitar and play “Slow Ride” with Foghat (this I like). Several of the offerings I recognize from my days as an exhausted parent—the basketball hoops, hillbilly shooting gallery and whack-a-mole.
Some of the games are new, like the Walking Dead. The violence gives me pause about the psychological effects on the minds of my progeny: a kindergartener and a preschooler. The latter watches from within the dark booth while the kindergartner, unfazed, fires crossbow arrows into hordes of relentlessly advancing zombies, whose heads then splatter.
Time to eat, and I pass on the menu for a cup of coffee. It’s expensive, like the whole day. I’ll spend $80 and my daughter $60 on this excursion into youth culture. I look around at the young parents, remembering the years (mid-80s-2003) when my wife and I were in their shoes. Not much has changed. This is perennial; the hopeful, challenging, striving years, ubiquitous denim jeans, peals of laughter masking worries about maxing the credit card, and the unending surveillance for child predators. Who do these young parents vote for? What are their positions on the border crisis, the fentanyl, transgender activism? What world will their children--my grandchildren—grow up in, after having been blessed with the good fortune of being born in (or immigrated to) the greatest nation on earth?
Time to go outside, to the vast playground Bullwinkle’s has bestowed upon this suburban community. The din of arcade games and enclosed young voices abates. There’s a zip line passing overhead—that’s new. A rip-roaring go-kart track; the top speed is 10 miles per hour, but the action’s furious. Miniature golf, a course I played countless times on previous visits. This was an Ellis family haunt back during the Clinton/Bush 43 eras. Bullwinkle’s today was my suggestion.
We opt for the bumper boats, my daughter’s favorite when she was a child. She has to go through twice, as the rule is one child and adult at a time, and the spectacle of me trying to get out of the boat would be embarrassing for everyone. Suddenly it’s all worth it. This is their time. The sun, the smiles, the bumps into strangers, the pristine water, the fabricated waterfall. The front-mounted water gun. While grandpa waits with the preschooler on the sidelines, the kindergartner squirts him in the eye.