Trampoline parks are the new skating rinks.
Chattanooga is about to go from zero to three trampoline parks in just a few months, and the first, The Jump Park on Chestnut Street near Finley Stadium, is already hopping. (The two others are to be built in Ooltewah and the Hamilton Place area.)
I made reservations at The Jump Park for my two sons, ages 12 and 7, last Tuesday. It was one of those random days off on the public school school calendar -- which, as all Chattanooga working parents can attest, might be any weekday ending in "y."
I assumed that the trampoline place would be nearly deserted because it has only been open for a few weeks. I did not fully grasp that texting and Twitter have turbocharged word-of-mouth.
Still, we were early enough to be among the first people in line to enter. I took the opportunity to instruct the boys in the house rules, which were posted on a sign in front of a sea of floor-level trampolines.
I started by interrogating my 7-year-old.
"Are you pregnant?" I asked.
He thought for a second and then said seriously, "I don't think so."
"You'd know," I said.
"Do you have any firearms in your possession?" I continued.
He patted his pockets.
"No," he reported dutifully.
"OK, you're good to go," I said.
Then, I turned to my sixth-grader, who immediately scowled, as if to say, "Dad, don't even start."
I got the message. For the next two hours, the boys would not need me, at least until it came time to pay for their Fantas.
Knowing that some of you are probably contemplating a trip to a trampoline park in coming months, I decided to pull out my reporter's notepad Tuesday and jot down some observations that might be helpful to you.
• How can I put this delicately, mommies? If you can't comfortably go snow sledding in a pizza pan, don't wear skin-tight black leggings to the trampoline park. There are parts of your bodies that weren't meant to jiggle and shake at eye level.
To be gender neutral, there were also several dads -- 200-pound bald spots really -- who apparently thought it would be slick to test their own trampolining skills. It's almost impossible to explain how dorky you look, guys -- Mr. Potato Head on a Pogo stick is about the best description I can give you.
• Girls instinctively know what to do at a trampoline park, boys do not.
Case in point: Two little girls dressed in matching tumbling suits walked up to side-by-side trampolines and immediately began to count off like jazz dancers, ".... five, six, seven, eight ..." Then they did a series of synchronized cartwheels and handsprings that made my jaw drop.
Even the girls who aren't spring-loaded know how to arch their arms above their heads like ballet dancers or strike their warrior pose at the top of their jumps.
On the other hand, all the boys seemed to be doing the mosh-pit hop, their limbs flailing and slapping the sides of their heads like one of those long-armed plastic guys powered by an air compressor outside the Jiffy Lube.
• Boys should proceed immediately to the dodgeball area, where the object is to bounce around and hit your opponents with a cantaloupe-sized foam ball. A long line of boys soon formed outside the dodgeball area, as if it were the best roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia.
There were so many would-be players that the striped-shirt officials -- think lifeguards at a water park -- had to shuffle people in and out. It was my heartfelt hope that one of them would yell, "Get the heck out of dodge," but they never did.
• On a serious note, most suburban parents are trained to equate trampolines with injuries. In two hours of watching several hundred kids come and go, I didn't see a single child whimper. Meanwhile, go to any outdoor playground and you'll see kid after kid nose dive into the mulch.
When our two hours were up, my boys slipped on their shoes and socks and thanked me for the outing.
"No problem," I said, surprised that I had actually enjoyed the people watching.
I'd suggest that to any parent, watch first and jump second. Do that and I predict that most of you will properly decide to keep your seat.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.
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 ...