I had one child dangling from my neck like a baby orangutan and another strapped to my back like a bookbag. All totaled, I had about 90 pounds of progeny hanging onto me.
My kids told me the name of the game was “Backpack.” I was a world-trotting traveler, and my children were my luggage that I couldn’t put down. Even if I felt something tear in my oblique.
Like most of our games that left me injured or exhausted, this was Bluey’s fault.
If you haven’t heard of Bluey, first of all, go watch some Bluey. It has dethroned Phineas & Ferb as my favorite children’s TV show. It’s about a family of four dogs — two parents and two daughters — who live together, play together, and learn the occasional life lesson.
This family plays. Every moment with Bluey’s family is an opportunity for a spontaneous, imaginative game to break out. It’s the rare TV show that inspires you to stop watching TV so you can spend time playing with your family instead.
If you see my children announce “Dance Mode,” and I start dancing, that’s Bluey. If you catch my family pretending to be grandmas on the way to mahjong, that’s Bluey. If you hear my kids calling the bathroom a “dunny,” that’s Bluey, too.
Bluey is a blessing, because it encourages my children to play creatively and reminds me to join in the game. Thanks to Bluey, my kids can turn a roller-coaster queue into an adventure more fun than the coaster. Ironically, thanks to Bluey, my children depend less on screens for their entertainment.
But Bluey is also the bane of my existence. Because Bluey’s father — Bandit Heeler, if you’re formal — is a FUN DAD. He’s always willing to get bounced on, climbed, or pretend to lug his children around the globe in the name of the game.
And Bluey’s father must be a marathon runner, because he is inexhaustible. I’ve watched a lot of Bluey, and I’ve never heard this guy say, “Sorry, kids, Daddy’s tired.” Which is strange, because I tell my kids that about once a morning.
But I admire Bandit Heeler’s parenting style, and (more importantly) I love my children’s excitement when I join the game, so I always try to rally for one more round of Grannies or Rug Island or Mums & Dads.
Which brings us back to World Traveler. I was visiting the Taj Mahal, but couldn’t find my passport. I’d checked my fanny pack (my daughter, hanging from my neck) and my bookbag (my son, clinging to my back), but it was nowhere to be found. Also, my bookbag wouldn’t stop tickling me.
I’d already traveled to Big Ben, Petra, and the Disney Store, so I was fatigued. But my kids weren’t done playing. They still shrieked with every joke and plot twist.
“Check again,” my son suggested.
So I reached behind me — strained — and felt something pop. Pain washed over me, but I kneeled gingerly so my kids wouldn’t get hurt when I collapsed. Of course, neither of them let go.
“Get the passport! Get the passport!” they exhorted, not realizing my agony.
“Get off,” I wheezed.
“Get the passport,” they begged.
I then unleashed a torrent of complaints that Bandit Heeler would never condone. I don’t remember what I said precisely, but I think I begged for death.
My children unclasped and climbed off of me. The game was over. I had ruined it.
I crawled upstairs, livid with myself. I had failed my kids and the spirit of Bluey’s dad.
But I will never be Bandit Heeler. I don’t have the benefit of being fictional … or having a staff of writers who can give me clever, helpful things to say.
No, I’m stuck being imperfect — like the rest of us. At our best, we try our best. But, sometimes, we’re tired or hurt or busy. None of us get to be our best all the time.
So, after a lengthy ascent up the stairs, I finally rolled into bed. I figured I’d give myself a few minutes of rest before deciding if I needed to call my physical therapist (who happens to be my Dad.)
While I relaxed, my children popped their heads in the doorway. They looked contrite, even though they’d done nothing wrong.
“Are you OK?” my son asked.
“I’ll be OK,” I said.
“Do you want a hug?” my daughter offered.
I nodded. The children climbed into bed (careful not to step on me) and gave me a snuggle. I apologized to them for losing my temper … not for the last time.
My daughter forgave me, hugged me tighter, and asked, “Daddy, do you want to play Doctors?”
I smiled and announced (in an Australian accent, for some reason): “Doctor, I have a terrible pain in my side.”
Without missing a beat, my son offered, “It’s because you’re pregnant.”
So we kept playing. Because sometimes I need breaks. I’ll never be Bluey’s Dad, but that shouldn’t keep me from playing.