Wild Child – Horseplay and Roughhousing Should be Encouraged as Much as Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Summary: Encouraging Kids, and Especially Girls, to Explore Their Physical Boundaries and the Importance of Horseplay, Roughhousing and Goofing Around to Their Development.

It’s Saturday morning and my daughter and her friend are sitting across from me at our favorite breakfast hangout Silver Spur. We’re sitting at the only table that has a wooden bench. The back is high and smooth. My daughter’s friend is sitting on her lap and is rocking back and forth pushing her weight of her back into my daughter which forces her head into the back of the bench.





This rhythmic rocking and my daughter‘s head thumping goes on for about 30 seconds at which point I interrupt their fun.

“Hey, are you OK with this?  How does your head feel?”

They stop and my daughter looks at me like I just asked the stupidest question in the world.

“Uh, yeah…I’m fine.”

“Ok, just checking.”

They continue where they left off.





Then my daughter’s friend stops, gets off her lap, and sits down.

“Ok, now you do me!”

My daughter then climbs on top of her friends lap and begins to rock into her, forcing her head into the high back wooden bench.





This goes on for about minute when Linda, the owner of the restaurant, comes over.

“Ok, you two need to stop that now, you’re putting the whole place on edge. Here’s some paper and crayons.”

On hindsight I guess it was a non-restaurant like thing to be doing – you know, two kids banging their heads into a wooden bench at 7:30 in the morning – but I tend to error on the side of “ok” rather than “let’s not” as long as the physical risk is minimal.

drooling contest at silver spur restaurant in santa cruz

Drooling contest at Silver Spur restaurant in Santa Cruz. To be fair, the drooling was my idea.

After we’re done eating the girls decide to make, and then drink, some kind of lemon juice/pancake syrup/ketchup/whatever stuff is left on the plate concoction as a dare.

I spend my time drooling on my plate.

“Oh, I’m sooo full” I say as a let drool pour out of the side of my mouth and onto my plate.

“How did you do that?” They exclaim and then try to copy me with little success.

“I cheated. I put just a little water in my mouth and then let is dribble out. If you put just a little in, it mixes with your saliva so it looks real.”

The girls take turns perfecting the technique and put their own spin on it will their best walking dead expression.

After we exhaust the novelty of the gag we pay and split.

This Saturday’s adventure is a trip over the hill to IFly, and indoor skydiving simulator in Union City. My daughter did this once before when she was five and she’s been anxious to do it again. I bought a pair of passes at our school fundraiser auction so she could bring a friend this time.

On the way out the girls start kick fighting. They do this on purpose. It’s a game where they take off their shoes, lean again their prospective doors and then start kicking each other. This goes on for like five minutes so I put on my ear buds and listen to my Pandora stand-up comedy channels.

“Ouch, she kicked me in the face!”

“What?” I say as I pull out an ear bud.

“She kicked me in the face! It hurt a lot!” says my daughter’s friend again.

“Well I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose. Did you do it on purpose?”

“No, it was an accident.”

“Did you apologize?”


“Ok, there you go.”

“But she kicked me in the face! “

“Look, we’ve been through this before. You two decide to play kick fighting and then eventually someone takes in the face. And then one of you complains to me about it like they did this big horrible thing to you for no reason. You have two choices, either stop playing kick fighting or understand that sometimes you’ll get kicked in the face and just learn deal with it.”

“Do you want to stop?” says my daughter to her friend.

“No, let’s keep playing!”

And so it continues – me listening to my Louis CK channel on Pandora while a pair of seven and eight year old girls kick the crap out of each other in the back of the van – until we get to IFly in Union City.

While we’re waiting for the indoor skydiving orientation to start we head downstairs to the bathroom.

The girls go in theirs and I go in mine.

Shortly after I walk in I hear a voice.

“Excuse me. I know this is really awkward…”

I could tell right way that this dude must be out of toilet paper.

“To your left you’ll see….”

“I got it.”

I open up the cabinet and pull out one off those giant commercial pinwheels of toilet paper and hand it to him under the stall.

“Thanks bro, you have no idea how grateful I am.”

“Oh, I think I do.”

I take a leak and wait outside for the girls. A minute later the guy walks out.

“Thanks man, I really appreciate it. I’ll make sure to hook you up.”

“Uh, Ok.”

I’m not sure what that means but I assume it can’t be bad.

We walk into the orientation room where you watch the training video and learn the hand signals and at the front of the room is the guy who needed the toilet paper, only now he’s wearing a red instructor’s jumpsuit. If I was Alanis Morissette I’d say “isn’t that ironic” but since I actually know what ironic means I chalk it up to an amusing coincidence.

Also in the room are the rest of the trainees. There are about eight young kids and they look a bit groggy. Turns out they had a sleep over a a friends birthday part and didn’t fall asleep until 4am.

The instructor does a good job of engaging the kids with silly jokes and one-liners. He pokes light fun at the parent’s presumed poor flying skills, which of course pleases the kids, which then pleases the parents. We then suit up and hit the wind tunnel.

Now all of the teasing about the adults poor ability to fly was of course true. The adults need wind speeds of at least 120mph to get lift and they tend to spend most of their time floating at the instructor’s knee level while slamming into the sides of the tunnel. The kids on the other hand can get by on 80mph and take to it like little birds.

ifly wind tunnel indoor skydiving in San Francisco

My daughter getting air in the IFly wind tunnel.

ifly wind tunnel indoor skydiving in San Francisco

My daughter's friend getting air in the IFly wind tunnel.

After the lesson was over we all gather around the counter. The instructor’s handing out DVD’s of the experience and ordering hi res photos to be delivered to the parent’s email. This is a premium package and costs extra – and we didn’t pay for one.

The instructor motions to me.

“I’m giving you a DVD too and some hi res photos as well for helping me out back there.”

“Cool, thanks. The kids will really appreciate this.”

He also gave us some discount passes. Nice guy.

“So how come the kids didn’t get to go up to the ceiling on their second flight? We did the last time we came.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I know it’s disappointing when I don’t take them to the top like some of the other instructors. The thing is I’m not certified to yet. The training process here is really thorough and intense. I’m close to getting certified but I’m not there yet, so I can’t take people to the top. Believe me, I can’t wait till I can. It’s no fun being slammed for something that is out of my control.”

Now if you saw this guy doing the freestyle tricks that the instructors do after the lesson is over, you’d be amazed that he’s not certified yet. He’s launching straight to the ceiling only to drop back down like a rock and then freeze his fall  just inches from the floor. He’s doing flips and spins and he caps off the performance by flying down from the ceiling, feet first,  in reverse, and exits the tunnel backwards. Impressive stuff.

So my daughter’s friend has guitar lessons at 1:30pm back home, and last weekend I blew it when I got stuck in weekend summer traffic heading into Santa Cruz. It wasn’t entirely my fault. There was a heat wave, everyone and their mother decided to go to Santa Cruz, and highway 17 was littered with accidents and overheated cars on the side of the road. It literally took one hour to go the five miles through Los Gatos to the base of the Santa Cruz mountains. My perfect record of never missing her guitar lesson in a year had been tarnished, so it was very important to avoid a repeat. So this time I left extra early to hedge my bet. Of course, this time there was no traffic and no accidents, and we arrived with an easy 45 minutes to spare.

The girls decided to pass the time with a new game which is called “let’s pull each pull each other’s underwear up as hard as we can” or something like that. The game is their own twist on the classic wedgie, which they had never heard of or seen before inventing this game. Which begs the question, is our innate desire to give wedgies due to natural selection, or is this part of God’s plan even though Adam and Eve didn’t actually wear underwear.

So my daughter gets on all fours like a dog in the back of the van.  Her friend then sits on top of her back facing the opposite direction like she’s riding a horse, but backwards.  She grabs the top of my daughter’s underwear in pulls as hard as she can. She looks like an Olympic rower stoking to the finish line.  They laugh and laugh.

“Ok, now you do me.”

They trade places and now my daughter is the one giving her friend a wedgie.  They probably do this to each other at least a half a dozen times.

Not wanting them to completely destroy their underwear (and then have explain all this to my partner) I suggest we hang out outside on the sidewalk until the guitar lesson starts.

Standing on top of parking meters Pacific Avenue Downtown Santa Cruz

Standing on top of parking meters on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz

I’m sure I just said “let’s wait outside” and not “let’s climb the light poles and stand on the parking meters” but hey, it’s close enough and at least they’re technically following my suggestion. And yes, they climbed up all by themselves, and yes I checked the meters for stability (they’re solid cast iron), and yes I know I’m rewarding their behavior by taking a picture of it…but fuck it.

Letting them explore and push their physical boundaries is just as legitimate and important to their development as reading, writing and arithmetic. We just don’t test for it in school so we don’t have the tools to quantify the results. It’s like testing for a sense of humor. We don’t teach it, and we don’t test for it, but everyone agrees that a sense of humor is a valuable, useful, and attractive asset.

So a kid who’s aware of how their body works kinetically, who’s physically confident, who has developed an accurate sense of risk through trial and error, is likewise developing an important life skill. However, just because the schools don’t test for it doesn’t mean I can’t. So I’m officially giving my daughter and her friend a big A+ for their Head Banging 101, Advanced Placement Kick Fighting, The Physics of Wedgies, and Introduction to Parking Meter Balancing classes.

File Under: Encouraging Roughhousing – Horseplay and Child Development – Allowing Young Girls to Explore Their Physical Boundaries Through Roughhousing and Horseplay

4 Responses to “Wild Child – Horseplay and Roughhousing Should be Encouraged as Much as Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic”

  • Andy Markley Says:

    Attaboy! You’ve detailed some of the things I wish I hadn’t restrainted my six children from doing.

    Of course, I’m making up for lost time with my grandchildren. Their parents complain that they get their kids back wired and unable to sleep after I’m done with them. I’m not sure why.


  • Ang Says:

    I like to see the looks on peoples’ faces when I “allow” my kids to just be kids. I like your style. 🙂


  • Rob Says:

    haha, drooling contest. nice.


  • Jonathan Adams Says:

    I think you hit on an important proviso when you said what they were doing wasn’t ‘restaurant behavior’. Kids respond to and learn contexts really well, that’s why a kid who’s a hellian at home with a permissive parent can be an angel in school with a teacher who sets boundaries. Kids can and should play rough in the right places, but they do need to know that kick-fights, etc are not okay when the car is moving, in church, or at a stranger’s house.


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