A report in Monday’s Life section said that experts now believe that horseplay is beneficial to children. They are calling it a form of “deep learning.”
The article, distributed by McClatchy Newspapers, noted that intense play makes children bold and adventuresome. It was based on a new book, “The Art of Roughhousing” (Quirk Books, $14.95), by Drs. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen. The doctors say horseplay leads to “spontaneity, improvisation and joy.”
Unfortunately, if you’re a 53-year-old dad, it also leads to fatigue, backaches and swear words. The father of two rambunctious boys, I get met at the door after work every day with the admonition: “Wanna wrestle?”
It really doesn’t pay to protest. And the truth is, I enjoy it too.
Today, I’d like to share with you a sampling of the games we play in the Kennedy household.
- Floor rasslin’. This is the classic father/son game in which children try to throw Daddy onto his buttocks. At our house, this game looks like two members of the Lollipop Guild trying to hog-tie a walrus.
My boys use the “hit-’em-high, hit-’em-low” strategy. One wraps his arms around my knees and tries to drive me to the ground with his shoulder, while the other climbs up on our bed and initiates the air attack.
My counterattack is hampered by the first rule of engagement: Daddy shall do no harm. The boys, who incidentally are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions, are free to use torture.
A favorite dirty tactic is for the 4-year-old to hug me around the legs while my 9-year-old son, a former Homerun Derby champion, tries to decapitate me with a memory-foam pillow.
As I struggle to keep my balance, so as not to crush my younger son, my older son can usually get in about five swings — any of which can make me see stars.
- Rock-a-baby. This is a sing-song floor game I invented when the boys were infants. I lie on my back, arms and legs extended, while one of the boys balances on my extremities. (Imagine a human hobby horse.) This game was fun for me when the boys weighed about 15 pounds. Now, not so much.
As we rock back and forth, I chant, Rock-a-BABY, Rock-a-BABY.
My 40-pound younger son still insists on playing this game, although his “horsy” clearly has one foot in the glue factory and my baby-talk chanting sounds ridiculous.
More than once, while playing Rock-a-BABY, I’ve had a dollop of his drool hit me right between the eyes.
- Couch surfing. My sons discovered if they have on clothes constructed of slick, manmade fabrics — dry swimsuits, for example — they can dive onto our leather couch and literally skip, from one end to the other, like a pebble across a pond.
They invented this game last week on the very day they had been coached to be on their best behavior because we had a house guest.
Spontaneity, improvisation and joy? Check, check and check.
- Hill sledding. The boys have become addicted to this outdoor pastime.
If you haven’t been to the Chattanooga riverfront lately, there are several public parks that have become venues for hill sledding. Here’s how it works: You haul a piece of cardboard to the top of the hill and slide down on the grass.
Some of the hills have been worn so slick from cardboard that the kids accelerate like downhill skiers.
My lovely wife, bless her heart, decided to join the boys hill sledding one night during the Riverbend Festival. On one descent, I snapped a picture on my iPhone just as she executed a rather inelegant rolling dismount.
Being the good husband that I am, I have offered to erase the photo for a large sum of money. So far, my wife has given me the skunk eye but no actual cash.
Actually, I think if I ask her for money again she might just skip me across the couch.
Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...