When Joe and I were packing up our family for vacation last week, I grabbed a last-minute phone call with my parents in California to check in and make sure everything was okay. "Are you taking the boys miniature golfing again, Weets?" my father asked me. Of course, I replied. Vacation at the beach isn't vacation without a drag-down, whining, fist-fighting, sob fest on the mini links as we duel to the death using multi-colored putters and pink, orange, blue, green and purple golf balls. "You have to write about it again," Dad implored me. "Hilarious." I'm not so sure any story involving children and mini-golf is funny. But the game, I've decided, is an incredible barometer of a child's age. Just like the colors of a rainbow, there is a spectrum of B.S. that bubbles over of the golf course that tells every adult an awful lot about their child's mental acuity. And usually, the results are far from pleasant.
(Jack, Ryan, Chris and Bobby with two of their cousins, Baden and Declan, before miniature golf...)
One of the biggest mistakes we parents make on summer vacation is merely suggesting to our children (stupidly, of course) that at some point during our trip - we might possibly all go out and do such-and-such. That stop-bothering-me-and-go-do-something-else utterance can be anything, really. Ice cream. Body surfing. Fishing. Or, in my case, miniature golf. And, the minute the words escape your lips, it's all the kids can think about. I swear, every time Bobby went under water and popped back up in the pool he said, "Mom, can we go mini golfing today?" Stop asking, Bob, I said back, and perhaps we will. Under the water he'd go, only to pop up at a different location and assault Joe with more peppering. "Dad, wanna go mini golfing?" You heard what your mother said, Bob, Joe said back. Stop trying to needle us to death. And on it went. For nearly ten hours. I almost threw my youngest boy into the ocean.
(The cousins in their natural habitat - when told to look like themselves...)
So... after being stupid enough to suggest that mini-golfing would be a fun afternoon activity, and after hours of requisite pestering, Joe and I loaded up the car and took the boys to the promised land. It's a cute course woven around live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and – this time – I was smart enough to remember the bug spray. There are water hazards on each hole, sharp embankments, rocks to putt around and fuzzy white carpeting to simulate sand traps (which I find all too often). We had just started when the cheating began.
We had an odd number - eleven - which meant two of the kids had to pair up with Joe and me and one had to go with Joe's brother and sister-in-law. Deciding the line-up was as complicated as figuring out the hose attachment on our Bissel steam cleaner. What should be so easy makes my jaw ache.
I'll spare you the details of this sordid little tale but will give you my conclusions about miniature golf and its parallels to life. First, most adults really don't care how well they play. They just want their children to have fun. Any parent who's really going for gold either was pushed around a lot of a kid or has a small-person's complex. Second, when you try the least, you tend to do your best, which is totally contrary to the real world. And third, the mini-golf 'stupid spectrum' shakes out to age this way:
Age 5 and under: Don't torture yourself. Your kids will only clobber you with their putter or blast their ball into another time zone and test your insurance deductible. Besides, most mini golf courses don't allow beer. It's just not worth it.
6-9: The Age of Cheating. Hitting the ball like a hockey puck and dragging it into the cup, sneaking extra shots when no one is looking, etc. It's all about winning. At any cost. Even if you have to hurt someone to do it.
10-12: The Crying Game. Something happens around the fifth grade that makes even the most secure youngster emotionally unravel. At hole number four, the melt-down begins, followed by moping, pouting, and then all-out sobbing. By hole eleven, this youngster is sufficiently embarrassed by their behavior and starts to suck up to the parents, hoping they can still get an ice cream after hole 18.
13-16: "I don't care if I win, as long as YOU lose." Teenagers are competitive, yes, but they're also dreadful scorekeepers. Watching someone else struggle makes them feel better about their own insufficiencies, and a teen will go to great lengths to ensure a younger sibling fails, and suffers.
17 and older: Once a child hits this age, he or she realizes that mini-golf matters as much to their life as does what other people think about them: Not At All. This is around the time a child starts to enjoy watching their younger siblings have fun. They've crossed over.
So that right there, my friends, is a small microcosm of our family's miniature golfing experience. You can look at the above photos and pretty well figure out which of the age-range categories the kids fall into and what array of behavior Joe and I got to enjoy. Why is it one of my favorite things to do, then, whenever we come to the beach on vacation? Ah... because these days are fleeting. Soon, my little shrimps will tower over me. They'll outgrow spending time with me. They'll chose other things to do with other people. The time is now.
Thank goodness, too. On the back of our scorecard was a buy-two-get-one-free coupon to play another round. Maybe when the rain stops this morning, I'll surprise the boys and load them back up in my car. We'll hit the links, fight, cry, mope and cheat, and then go out for ice cream. I'll sit at a distance and watch them, knowing how incredibly fortunate I am.
Life is good, friends. It is so, so very good.