The seaweed was thick that day. A park ranger told me it was called sargassum. I giggled, because that’s what children like me do when they discover words that sound like a combination of “sarcasm” and “orgasm.” It wouldn’t be long before I looked at my wife and said, “I don’t need your sargassum, missy.”
But the point was that Grayton Beach was a little messy on this day and I didn’t feel like fighting seaweed while spending time with my older son. We wandered the coastline for a while before heading back to our house. Unlike most of the houses on this beach, we had a very small pool to keep us cool on days when the beach wasn’t cooperating. Somebody called it a “martini pool,” which I thought was appropriate because I’ve drank martinis that contained about the same amount of liquid. But, it worked for us and it gave me a good way to gauge the size of my noontime cocktail.
I’ve been pretty lazy this summer and my body looks more like something you’d see at a museum featuring middle-aged white people. I’m the chief attraction in the Beer-Bellied Sloth wing. So, I sat beside the pool while the boy zoomed from one end to the other on a boogie board. Ultimately, I had to get in and cool off. I hid my belly in the deep end.
When the blue wiffle ball whizzed by my head, it nearly hit the switch that turns me from Fun-Loving Adventure Dad into Run He’s Going to Blow Dad. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw my boy waiting to see how I was going to react. I stopped, took a breath, made sure my belly was hidden under the water, and said, “So, that’s how we’re going to play, huh?”
The boy giggled. It was genuine. It was probably relief. Ten minuted later, we’d created Boogie Ball.Boys create games. It’s what we do. My childhood friends and I invented a pastime we only called The Game, a version of hide-and-go-seek combined with a pool-less Marco Polo that we played indoors in complete darkness. I once nearly set my house on fire during a spirited match. In college, we played Peak, a game played with a basketball, the roof of a house, and a lot of beer. If it was raining or too cold, we played Steps (see: Peak with a flight of stairs instead of a rooftop). By now, my “adult” lime-tossing adventures with Pauly are the stuff of minor legend.
And now I was creating a game with my son. It was a true collaborative effort and it built a game that I’d be happy to continue anytime I had an appropriate field of play. Boogie Ball required only a very small swimming pool, a wiffle ball, and a boogie board. We turned the board upside down in between us. The player with the ball is required to bounce the ball once (and only once) off the boogie board and land it in the water defended by his opponent. If the ball lands in the water, the thrower gets a point. If the opponent catches the ball before it hits the water, the thrower gets no points. If the ball leaves the pool area, the thrower loses a point. The game ends when a player reaches ten points.
Oh, it sounds simple, but it became our passion that afternoon. My son, without instruction, began to realize the importance of “putting the ball where they ain’t.” Together, we massaged the rules until the game was perfect. Within an hour or so, my brother was standing by the pool and challenging me to a late-night match (after cocktails, of course).
It didn’t strike me during the heat of battle, but it was yet another indication that my boy is growing up. He was as much involved in creating Boogie Ball as I was. It won’t be long before I see him inventing something like The Game or Peak with his buddies. I can only hope I don’t embarrass him too much when I start begging to play with them.