Getting tagged

It’s the one phrase all sporty mountain parents dread: “I’m just more of an indoor kid,” the firstborn fruit of my loins casually announced recently.

I immediately did a mental recall of the last eight years to see where I went wrong. Maybe it was the camping trip to the Arkansas River when he was 12 weeks old. Or the years of being strapped into a Burley trailer. Or perhaps it was the time we forgot the tent and had to sleep in a cow pasture. Whatever it was, something had gone terribly wrong in his short life to warrant such a radical departure from family tradition.

Perhaps I should have been tipped off when, as a tot, his favorite pastime was “Glow Golf” (may it R.I.P.) and the highlight of family vacations was a trip to the Mall of America. Anyway, seeing as how I was born in a city known (and damned proud of it, I might add) for its indoor elevated walkways and enclosed sports dome and that I was reared a mere interstate exchange away from the aforementioned bastion of indoor commercialism, I had empathy for the boy. Much in the same way I once was a suburban girl yearning to be free in the wild rivers and mountains of the West, he was a mountain kid in search of that unrequited urban jungle of mega malls, In & Out Burgers, “magic stairs” (aka escalators) and water parks. And the most alluring siren call of all? That be-all end-all for video-game obsessed prepubescent boys that is simultaneously reviled and feared by mothers everywhere: laser tag.

That’s right. The child I had gone to great pains to inoculate with an immense love, respect and sense of adventure for the outdoors was only interested in one thing: blowing away enemies under the black lights of a cheesy sci-fi setting inside an abandoned K-Mart.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I spent a lot of my formative years in a dark, dingy roller rink skating in circles to the Bee Gees and Journey, so who was I to judge? Besides, I figured it was better to let him get it out of his system now than to have him living a nocturnal existence of War Games and Taco Bell in my basement 30 years from now.

Thus, it was with a semi-hopeful attitude, not to mention an ulterior motive to kick his butt, that I allowed him to take my hand and lead me through the tinted sliding doors of “Wazee’s World” in suburban Phoenix. (The perfect place for a laser tag arena if ever there was one.)

Originally vowing to sit at the snack bar while the rest of my family battled it out in “Area 51,” I decided to throw caution to the wind. After all, I had taken him on countless outdoor adventures, so it seemed only fair I accompany him on his indoor one.

Soon, we were admitted access through a massive steel door to a holding chamber where we could size up the competition: a couple of 5-year-old girls (one of whom was my daughter); the spousal unit (who could play a mean game of beer biathlon back in the day); and a gaggle of five teen, tween and pretween boys (including my own). I figured the little girls would be easy prey and I could outwit the old man, but the boys might give me a run for my money. I was particularly leery of the oldest, the ringleader who wasted no time in securing his flak jacket and shouldering his fully automatic machine gun – an obvious veteran of laser warfare.

The rules were simple: no running, no jumping and no rolling on the floor (not that you would want to). Forget what you see in “Die Hard,” this was to be a civilized affair where stealth, connivery, eyes in the back of your head and a good shot were all you needed. In other words, basic mothering skills.

And with that, we were released into the plywood “moonscape” death chamber under the alias of our newly assigned names. The “Lone Wolf,” I chuckled as I quickly disappeared into the maze to lay in wait for my first victim. But when the small figure of a little boy appeared, my motherly instinct kicked in.

“I can’t shoot a kid,” I thought as I dropped the gun and quietly retreated. And that’s when “Ice Fox” showered me in a hailstorm of laser fire. Apparently, when it comes to love and war in the indoor laser arena, all is fair – even if it’s riddling a 6-year-old Chicago gangland style.

Anyway, I was beginning to take names and kick a little kindergarten butt, when the ringleader, “Night Hawk,” decided to get in on the action. Before I knew it, I was lit up like the Rockefeller Christmas tree, as Night Hawk and his partner in crime, “Nitro,” joined forces in an obvious Us vs. The Tourists offensive. Meanwhile, my own son, operating under the name “Falcon,” was experiencing an unrivaled pinnacle of glory, blasting bodies like John Rambo and taking no prisoners. Meanwhile, I had become a moving target and needed to find a victim quick. That was when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied my 5-year-old daughter and took aim, family ties and future self-esteem be damned. But before I could squeeze the trigger she called a truce, and I lay down my arms as she approached, claiming equipment malfunction. Needless to say, I fell for the old “mine’s not working” and was blasted squarely in the heart at close range before she scampered off into the shadows.

Wounded, emotionally and morally, I went into defensive mode, hiding from the teen-age snipers who had gained the bridge and were taking pot shots at anything that moved, until the final buzzer sounded. And when the smoke machine finally settled and the results were tabulated, Nighthawk and Nitro had clinched first and second respectively, with Falcon bringing in an impressive third place. And at the bottom of the heap, was “Lone Wolf” – aka Outdoor Mom. That’s right – over the course of the 20-minute shooting spree, I had racked up an impressively pathetic 1,600 points, which in laser tag is sort of like bowling an entire game of gutter balls.

As for Indoor Boy, he was so high on post-laser euphoria that he didn’t even ask about Cosmic Golf. Sure, it took him a week to come down, and another trip to laser world is already in the works, but he hasn’t seen the last of Outdoor Mom just yet.

– Missy Votel



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