There are a few things nobody warns you about before you become a parent. The actual number of diapers you will go through in the first few months of a baby’s life. (Millions.) The number of times you will ask the question, “Where are your shoes?” (Billions.) The number of boxes of Dino nuggets you will buy. (Trillions.)

But for me personally, the part of parenthood I was least prepared for was the lung capacity required to inflate toys for summer entertainment.

Looking back, I realize the first few weeks of summer break — late May through early June — were the salad days. I was so happy to have my kids home, to enjoy later, slower mornings, and to have leisurely evenings together without the worry of getting to bed on time for school.

But the salad days have turned into the dog days, as they always do. I’m still happy my kids are home. I’m still enjoying the later, slower mornings. And I’m still grateful for the late nights we can spend together.

But my floors are sticky with watermelon and Popsicle residue. The “Bluey” theme song is blaring in my home at all times. If someone isn’t asking for a snack, they’re asking me to text someone’s mom to set up a time to play.

If I were a better parent I would make a schedule and chore chart to add some routine and structure to these long summer days. But I am not a better parent. I am a parent working from home, just trying cheap measures to keep my kids occupied, outside, long enough for a 20-minute phone call. Results so far have been varied. Earlier this week my son walked into my office during a team Zoom call wearing only his underwear.

So I’ve turned to the place we all turn to in moments of desperation — Amazon. I wade through the jungles of this online marketplace, looking for silver bullets that will prevent the words “I’m bored” from ever being uttered within my home again. I purchase objects that I hope will kill at least an afternoon — or, if I’m lucky, a week’s worth of afternoons.

I’m not so dumb as to expect these items will arrive ready to go. I know there will be some assembly required. I buy AAA and AA batteries in bulk. I’m a regular wiz in using the dinky little metal elbows to screw parts together. My reading comprehension for toy construction steps is off the charts.

But I am left flat-footed when it comes to anything that requires inflation. For a few reasons:

  1. Bike pumps are the most losable objects on Earth. More than even the tiny Samsung remote which I recently misplaced and couldn’t find for a full week while the Samsung logo bounced around on our television screen. If I paid you $1,000 right now, could you tell me where your bike pump is? You could not do it. Because you packed it before your last move and now it’s in a box somewhere that you will never find. And if you buy a new one, it will also end up in a box somewhere that you will never find.
  2. Even if you do find a bike pump, you had better bulk up on creatine because to inflate something, you will be pumping for a full hour unless you own an electric pump.
  3. No one owns an electric pump except that one neighbor who’s really into mountain biking and they’re not home anytime you need to borrow it because they’re mountain biking and/or avoiding you.
  4. You’ll ultimately be left with just one option for inflating the pool float or beach ball or sprinkler attachment you’ve ordered: using the breath from your lungs.
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So it was on a fateful afternoon, in the midst of a cousin playdate, when my mom, sister, sister-in-law and I opened the packaging for “the sprinkler monster,” an inflatable pink monster with scales and horns that attaches to a garden hose and shoots water out of its head. Coming out of the box, the flat plastic monster was longer and wider than any one of us.

We read the assembly instructions: “1. Inflate.”

As though that were simple. As though we had access to Father Wind. As though if we thought about it hard enough, oxygen molecules would assemble in a tiny little line and march into the monster.

Despite the willful negligence of the instructions, we were determined to inflate the toy. So we got blowing. There were four of us; how hard could it be?

At first, we took turns while standing. But we soon had to admit our physical limitations were such that we needed a chair to support the rest of our body while our lungs gave it their all. So we took turns sitting and blowing. A turn would end when the blower began to see stars. They would then do their best to clean off the nozzle before the next breath-haver took the chair. This went on for an hour.

Really, it’s an inspiring tale of human perseverance. Like the stories we’ve all heard of marathon runners who break their ankle halfway through the race and keep going until they finish the race nine hours later. Which is pretty dumb when you think about it, but no one ever said human perseverance was intelligent.

Or like the time in high school when I decided to try hurdles at a track meet just for kicks (no pun intended) and tripped over every single one of them until finally reaching the finish line and getting a standing ovation from the onlookers who probably never felt more sorry for anyone before then or since.

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It was absolutely in our best interest to leave the monster flat. Not just because the process of blowing it up was the most physically taxing thing any of us had ever done, but also because while we were in the garage cosplaying as Doctor Frankensteins and giving life to a creature that had no business existing, the children were running wild inside the house. It’s nothing short of a miracle that none of them found a Sharpie and took it upon themselves to make a fun new mural on the living room walls.

At long last, the monster, having had life (and a fair amount of spit) literally breathed into him, sat upright.

Was he fully inflated? No. Were his horns a bit floppy? Sure. But he sat upright all the same.

And our kids had a great 20 minutes running through the water shooting from his head until someone turned on “Bluey.”

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