I placed my two year old in the Hurricane machine. Yup. You read that right.

I could tell you that she was with the nine year old and the four year old but that doesn’t make it much better, does it? She’s still a two year old and it’s still something called “THE HURRICANE MACHINE.”

I’m not going to defend myself. But I will explain. My children finished all their assigned reading for school and I promised them some fun at the mall.

The Hurricane Machine is a bright red telephone booth sized room in the middle of the mall that whips up winds up to 80 mph inside for two dollars. The kids have been begging for a chance to go inside since they first saw it a few months ago.

I didn’t expect the two year old to want to go in but she kinda’ poked herself in there when the nine year old walked in. I could’ve taken her out but I figured I could always grab her out if she got scared. My nine year old picked her up as the winds picked up. The four year old ran in place screaming but the two year old loved it. Her cheeks ballooned with air and her hair flew around her face and every time she laughed the windows were sprayed with kid drool.

A number of people stopped to watch and a man in a suit suddenly said from behind me, “Next time you do this you have to take video of it.”

I joked by saying, “Uh. Do I really want evidence that I put my two year old in something called the Hurricane machine? And do I really want my wife seeing this video?”

“Good point,” he said.

When the three of them got out the six year old and the seven year old got in together, mainly because the last thing either of them did alone was get born. And as I put my two dollars in the man in the suit laughed and said, “They all yours? Ha. You must not like quiet too much.” And then he stood there looking over me and my children smiling as if we were the long awaited punch line to a private joke he’d just been telling. He nodded his head as he looked at me and the children.

“I’d imagine you don’t get a lot of quiet,” he said.

I honestly didn’t know where the man was going with this so I looked at his hands. You see, the eyes tell you if you’re gonna’ have a problem with a man. The hands tell you how much of one. If he’s got something in them, if they’re balled up, or twitching. It tells you something.

But the man’s hands were relaxed. “You don’t get much quiet, huh?,” he repeated as if I hadn’t heard.

“I get enough,” I said over my shoulder at him.

“I bet you do,” he roared, laughing and causing others at the mall to turn their heads.

The girls giddily climbed out of the Hurricane Machine and we walked away. And we didn’t see him again although the kids sensed that we were walking away from something rather than to something. Don’t know how they know but I could see it in how they looked behind us that they knew something was going on.

We entered a new store in the mall which had rides and video games. We walked up the stairs inside and my older children bounded up ahead of the two year old and I mainly because she can’t walk up stairs too fast. She feels the need to hold the railing which she can hardly reach. And she’s the kind of crazy that if she stumbles on a step she goes back down and does it again right.

I know there’s probably whole books that tell parents how to deal with that kind of crazy but I figure I’ll just let it play out a while. Sometimes crazy just wears off or they invent all new kinds of crazy. And instead of buying all those books just think of how many rides in the Hurricane Machine she could get for that. Eventually maybe it’ll blow the crazy right out of her. And if nothing changes, she’ll have the strongest legs of any two year old in the hemisphere.

We reached the top of the stairs and my children were all standing there frozen, mouths agape like witnesses to a vision out of a children’s Bible. Ah, the sweet siren of unbridled capitalism blinked, whirred and beeped at them, overwhelming their senses with all its neon glory, hailing tokens out of their pockets.

There were car racing games, motorcycle games, and dance games. Some kind of spaceship looking thing bounced about blinking red and blue lights. Skeet ball. Basketball hoops. A room of nets and tubes and slides with a floor filled with balls.

They wandered forward slowly as if rushing towards it all would make it disappear. They looked to me for approval to dash headlong in the anarchy. And I knew that my assent would usher in madness. I waited a moment. Two. And then I nodded. Never had a simple nod unleashed such insanity. They ran towards the net, tube, and ball room while removing their shoes in stride. There was no delicacy or grace in their movements. It was pure speed which interested them. Every moment they were not up to their knees in Styrofoam balls was a wasted moment for them.

The two year old released my hand and dashed behind them all and…FACE PLANT! This childish Las Vegas proved too much for her and she’d lost her bearings and ran straight into the motorcycle game and crashed to the floor. She didn’t so much as raise her hands for protection on the way down. I honestly still believe that even as she fell she made the choice to keep her eyes firmly affixed on the big blue tube slide rather than the onrushing floor.

I know this is bad but I hoped she didn’t bruise for a couple of reasons. One, because she’s my child and I love her very much but two, the thought of explaining it all to my wife seemed dangerous.

Wife: Honey, what happened to the baby?
Me: Well she hit the motorcycle.
Wife: She got hit by a motorcycle?!
Me: No the motorcycle was the aggrieved party here. She hit it.
Wife: Why?
Me: Well, she may have still been a little disoriented from the “Hurricane Machine” because we were moving fast away from the strange man making lewd cracks about us.

And I didn’t see the conversation getting better from there.

But the baby cried for a few moments and I patted her as she explained in her gobbledygook English how that motorcycle had jumped out and clearly attacked her. I agreed with her. But soon she was fine and the kids played together.

I stood near a bench where the other parents sat. One of them said to me, “Are they all yours?”

I get that question a lot.

I told her that two of them were actually hitchhikers I picked up because I thought they looked so darn much like the others. They laughed but another woman there said, “I was just saying how loud this place is but you probably don’t even notice it because your house must always sound like this.”

I laughed. The other woman added, “God bless you. I don’t know how you do it. Your wife must be a saint.”

I told her that on that we could agree.

Those kinds of places really do show the best and worst of parenting. It’s nice because at first you see the parents smiling at their children, taking video and clicking pictures and then comes the inevitable “we have to leave” which ushers in many stages. Upon the initial call to leave, the child pretends they can’t hear their parent. Then after that charade seems implausible comes the “one more minute” request which often ushers in a new round a pretending not to hear the parent when the one minute is up. Then after communications are established and both sides are locked in on one another, then and only then are the battle lines drawn. And the child has a decision to make. And much of it comes down to whether or not they think Mom is willing to crawl up that tube and come after them.

Sadly, I can say most of the children there didn’t believe their Mom would crawl up and there were screaming matches and tears, granted requests for later sentencing, and most of them were hailed out only by promises of Icees and pretzels. In short, most of the parents there ended up sorry they took their children there in the first place. And said so.

I know that I do have one advantage in this respect. My children know I’m the kind of crazy that wouldn’t hesitate before climbing up a tube to “gather” a disobedient child. You see, when children know that Dad is crazy, it makes them a bit more sane.

But watching my children in there was great. I know the place was loud as an electronic apocalypse but I didn’t notice it. I was focused on their smiles and their laughter and watching them take care of each other when they fell in the balls (mostly on purpose). At one point they pretended the balls were quicksand and they saved each other from certain death.

But amid the cacophony for me it all seemed…quiet. I started thinking about that man’s question. Despite having five children and a not-so-big house, the funny thing is that I feel like I do live a quiet life.

I should know. I lived loud for many years. I lived loudest when I was younger and wanted to drown out the quiet. Because back then it was the quiet that scared me.

You can sleep with noise. It’s the quiet that doesn’t let you sleep. It was in the quiet moments when all the questions came into my mind and jarred me and jeered at me.

During the day it’s always easy to pretend you have all the answers. But at night there’s nobody to lie to. All those seemingly unanswerable questions come out and they sit on your chest. They’re unanswerable mostly because you just don’t want to know the answer.

So I learned to dread the quiet. And I lived loud.

But eventually things change. Things like meeting the greatest woman in the world and having children and actually facing down the big questions in your life make you quieter.

I think once you accept God, all the other questions seem to quiet down. And all your own noises don’t seem all that loud. And let’s face it, as you get older, you just realize you don’t take up the space in the universe you once thought you occupied. And I’m good with that. I like my little space in the universe here.

It’s a funny irony that when I was young and dumb and believed I was the center of the universe I took nothing seriously except myself. But as I’ve gotten older it seems I take most everything else seriously except myself.

In my quiet life I like kissing my wife after a long day and praying with all five children at bedtime on a summer night while the sun is still hanging up in the sky. And when I lay down at night now it’s quiet. The kind of quiet you can sleep to. The kind of quiet you thank God for. Well, at least I do.