FEATURE — “Hey, mom,” my 14-year-old called to me from outside my bathroom door. “Yes?” I replied, leaning in towards the mirror to finish my final mascara stroke.
Before I could make a move to grant him entry, the black barn door separating the two of us slowly slid open just enough to reveal his face. In the mirror’s reflection, I registered his elfish grin first, followed closely by the realization that he held an odd-looking contraption in his hands.
That’s when the barrage began. Blue and white ping pong balls started flying into the room, zinging over my head, ricocheting off the mirror and off the tile walls. One, two, three, four, five, six.
They kept flying. And I turned and ducked, weaving left and right, mascara wand still in hand, trying half-heartedly to avoid the soft thwacks against my back, arms and head.
What was this madness? I still wasn’t totally sure 15 seconds into the onslaught.
As suddenly as it started, it stopped. My son looked at me, still impish. I looked back at him.
And then peals of laughter erupted. From us both.
“Pretty cool, huh mom?” he questioned. I simply nodded, too happy to speak.
It turns out that the contraption in question was a table tennis robot he built from a kit. A kit I ordered for him as part of a monthly subscription meant to stimulate his brain without technology. I am so over technology right now.
So far, it’s worked.
In the last few months, in addition to the machine he used in the great bathroom “attack on mom,” he’s also built a working pinball machine, a (mostly) working ukulele and a working lockbox, which he also used in the great experiment to trap his mother’s hand in an effort to extort more screen time out of her. (It didn’t work.)
Each build involves engineering and creativity – and springs, gears, motors and tiny screwdrivers. Because who doesn’t like tiny screwdrivers?
Later that night, the table tennis robot was back at it.
This time, set-up on our dining table and aimed at my husband, who had been given 1) a full rundown on the machine; and 2) the benefit of a ping-pong paddle to ward off the balls flying in his direction. But the result was the same: peals of laughter from both participants.
Laughter from my husband, who expertly whacked the balls being shot at him back at my son, and laughter from my son, who collected the returned balls after falling on their target and loaded them back into the machine.
And just like that, it felt like spring had entered our home.
Forget about spring forward, the warming temperatures, the longer days and even the ridiculous number of squirrels dancing through the trees (seriously, how could there possibly be more squirrels?), getting hit with ping pong balls is what’s apparently helping my family with the transition.
A transition to blooms and sunshine and outdoor play. To visiting my parents after 13 long months. To vaccines and a return to travel. And to hope.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “the earth laughs in flowers.” And while I’d never want to get in a word fight with Emerson, this year I humbly suggest: the earth laughs in flowers – and in robots that spit ping pong balls at you while putting on makeup in the bathroom. Or something like that.
May we all find reasons to laugh again this spring.
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