I have this (possibly untrue) memory of being really small (maybe in kindergarten) and going somewhere absolutely terrifying that had a ball pit. It probably Chuck E Cheese’s, the anthropomorphic rat’s castle where birthday parties are held in America-land, and which BB has just informed me now serves wine on tap. Stay classy, Chuck E Cheese.
“Chuck E Cheese is so awesome!” they told me (in 1990). “It has games, and prizes, and a BALL PIT!”
I’m sure they had me at “cheese.” I was five. And I still love cheese.
If this all went down the way I remember it, which seems unlikely because my mom is a Responsible Adult who probably wouldn’t have let this happen, I went in the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese’s with a bunch of kids who were bigger than me (probably first graders!) and I just had a horrible time.
I couldn’t stand up, because the base of the ball pit was all squishy (likely to prevent concussions, but it also prevented traction!).
There were big kids everywhere, and I was just sinking further and further into a terrifying array of germ-infested uniformly-sized rainbow-colo(u)red plastic balls, which were also wooshing past my face at an alarming speed.
The exit was a creepy mesh flap that I could not get out of because of the influx of children with less interest in the concept of gravity than I was at the time — they kept canon-balling through the entrance while I clung desperately to the sides in a mad scramble to escape.
It was The Worst.
A few years (like, 20+) later, we went to a visit to my sister in St. Louis.
“You have to go to the City Museum!” they told me. “It’s so awesome! It has beer and slides and a BALL PIT!”
While I should have been wary of this carnivalesque atmosphere cultivated for adults, wary as I am of most things that don’t seem to meet any kind of health and safety codes, and extra-wary as I am of any activities that involve booze and adults trapped in a circus, they had me at “museum.” (I am older now, and I have more refined tastes. Although some kind of magical cheese museum would really be the best of both worlds.)
So we went. We climbed through tiny tunnels, we rocketed down completely unsafe slides, we got bruised in the dark caves and crevices of the building, and we went into the Ball Pit.
This was not like the Chuck E Cheese ball pit.
This ball pit was full of doge balls, bouncy balls, footballs, and an odd assortment of things that were probably balls before drunk adults jumped on them.
Things were great for about the first 30 seconds, right after the referee (you know you’re in for a good time when the ball pit has a referee) had cleared out the last round of about twenty hooligans who were having a “who can hit the other team in the face hardest?” contest, where teams were actually just screaming individuals.
For the first half-minute, it was just me and my sisters and Jim Jim, hanging out, feeling like giants in a ball pit (if you scale up from Chuck E Cheese’s, you might understand why). It was cool, I had better balance than last time, and it was fun to sit around and look at the night sky from amidst a pile of misshapen balls. TGIF.
But then those hooligans got back in line to re-enter the ball pit, and things got real crazy real fast. There were little kids mixed in with the bigger kids, so in deference to my kindergarten self I kept trying to help the little kids not drown or get stepped on.
Giant, misshapen, and possibly even basket balls went wooshing through the air with terrifying speed and uncannily terrible accuracy. It didn’t take long before one of the kids (accidentally, he claimed) whacked me full on in the face with (if memory serves, though this could be embellishment) the hardest red kick ball I have ever had the displeasure of encountering with my nose.
Now, I try not to be a crotchety old lady, but I definitely hauled off and yelled at that kid (and by kid I mean someone taller than me, so he could have been any age over maybe 12), and he apologized, and I got out, never to return. The entire City Museum experience was enhanced by the loss of Jim Jim’s phone, and the generally pleasant attitude I was in.
“Jim, Jim, I think dat kid broke my nose! Look ad by nose!”
“Well, id hurts!”
“Do you want some ice?”
“No, I wand do punch him id the face! I think my nose id broken!”
“Bubba, I think dat kid broke my nose! Look ad by nose!”
And so on.
These incidents didn’t really enter my mind when we registered for a ball pit on our wedding registry. At the time, I was more concerned with painting pirate ships and finding the perfect thrift store wedding dress (the former took hours, the latter took about 4 minutes, and only because the zipper got stuck).
Needless to say, our ball pit is The Best!
The only kids in our ball pit are kids we invite! We are very elitist.
My experience with grad school has been roughly comparable to my experience with ball pits.
First, it was scary and all the kids were bigger than me and I hated it!
Then, it was fine until all the young kids (who were still somehow bigger than me?) came in and whacked me in the face (with what I’ll call Deadlines and Responsibilities to the Field)! Now I don’t like it!
Next, I need to make my own ball pit grad school in my living room so that I can over come my fears and trepidation and write my dissertation!
I wrote my Master of Arts Research Paper in the ball pit, so this might not be a terrible idea. It’s certainly not unprecedented.
If my experiences with ball pits have taught me anything, it’s that I will find some way to work grad school to my advantage and collaborate with the people I like (perhaps sorting all the colo[u]red balls), make my grandma proud (when we were cleaning out her house, we found one stray McDonald’s Play Place ball, which leads me to believe she would approve of my life choices thus far), and have a wonderful time.
But right now, I feel stuck in a pit of mangled balls and angry children. Nuts to this!