The last year and a half has been a challenge for all of us, no doubt. However, as a grandma (“Amma”) of three little ones (Jimmy, age 2 ½, and twins Thomas and Addison, age 1), I’m realizing it wasn’t just grown-ups who have dealt with all the unusual life changes. Quarantine and social distancing have had a huge impact on the little guys as well. This fact came to light clearly last week after an outing with my 2 ½-year-old grandson Jimmy.
I regularly babysit Jimmy and wanted to seek out a fun excursion that would be exciting for him (and maybe even tire him out a bit). I did a little research on Bubba Pay Zone (BPZ) in NW OKC. The Play Zone’s website declares its cleanliness, outlining the protocols in place for sanitizing the play areas (something I’m extra anxious about these days!) and it shows photos with all ages of kids having a great time in a large indoor play area.
It looked like fun and Jimmy was intrigued by the pictures, so off we went!
The price is reasonable ($12 per child with up to two free adults per paid child). I signed a disclosure, the staff person created matching ID stickers for Jimmy and me for safety purposes and she informed us we had to remove our shoes and only wear socks (which they DO sell there for only $2 a pair should one forget). The BPZ has cubbies lined up on a wall for easy shoe storage and retrieval when playtime is over. It was also nice to arrive right at opening time on a low-traffic day. We practically had the place to ourselves!
All paid/registered, un-shoed and excited about going into the “big room,” I discovered I was the only one with such optimism. Cue a 2-year-old meltdown.
I’m not sure what it was about taking off his shoes and storing them, but Jimmy’s tears started flowing and real sobs ensued the second I put his shoes in a cubby. I put my shoes next to his to show they were safely hanging out together, but that didn’t seem to help.
We walked slowly (me holding Jimmy and Jimmy holding his faithful stuffed puppy named “Ha-Ha”) into the designated play area and slowly the tears subsided. There was a LOT going on in there and the overwhelm was apparent. Since we got there early the place wasn’t too packed yet, but the kiddos who WERE there were already running up and down the padded steps, sliding down into the ball pits and crawling through the netted tunnels – all while screeching in delight.
Jimmy was cautiously interested!
After a tentative look into the ball pit, Jimmy sent his stuffed puppy flying into the colorful plastic sea! He saw that “Ha-Ha” had survived, so he climbed in after him. The first gentle entry into the balls quickly turned into full-on diving, jumping and “swimming” in this newfound delight! The tears were gone, and I knew we would be at BPZ for a while.
Jimmy wasn’t used to being around that many other children at one time, and his shyness was apparent at first. COVID had limited his attendance at MDO and other kid-filled venues so it took him a bit to warm up to the other kids there, especially since they all seemed a bit older and more daring than he. But soon he was non-stop! He slid down the wide slide but really loved climbing up it more.
We played in every single section of the huge jungle gym (me following closely behind because I’m a relatively new and nervous Amma) and ventured to the toddler area at times, too. After nearly two hours, I could see it was time we needed to wind down. Plus a large group of older screaming girls (eeek!) came in for a birthday party, and that was when Jimmy thankfully agreed that he and his puppy had had enough fun for one morning. He willingly took my hand and we headed toward the door.
Ironically, the shoe cubby was pretty cool on the way out. Jimmy loved finding his shoes and putting them on like a big boy. (Part of me, I must admit, wanted to burn our socks and jump in a vat of sanitizer, but I overcame the feeling and tried to chock up the morning to improving our immune systems!)
It had been an outing full of new experiences for both of us (all four if you count “Ha-Ha” and my sister who joined us). But it was an adventure I wouldn’t trade for anything. Hanging out with this little dude is one of my favorite things in life. And I can’t wait to include the twins soon and try BPZ out again.
One thing I’ve learned after living through a historic pandemic: making memories seems more important now than ever, especially for those of us lucky enough to be grandparents. That morning at BPZ was definitely one filled with great memories I’ll not soon forget! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a child so happy while buried up to his eyeballs in balls! It was truly one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Jimmy was filled with pure joy and my eyes MAY have watered just a little. He is well over 2, yet he’d never seen, much less been IN, a ball pit!
Yep – quarantine has taken away a bunch from us, but I’m determined to make up for lost time. Jimmy has plenty of time to “catch up,” and I can’t wait for our next outing. Making memories – here we come!
Lisa Lohmann, EdD, recently retired after 34 years in Oklahoma’s education system, most recently working as a professor of education at the University of Central Oklahoma. Lisa’s favorite pastimes include being a new grandmother (Amma), reading books for various book clubs, working as an adjunct professor, and playing pickle ball. She is married to Steve, also retired. Together they have three terrific sons, two beautiful daughters-in-law, one adorable doggie, and three perfect grandchildren.