Zombie Ticklefest

January 05, 2024

GPT-4 gnerated image of a zombie-like dad tickling his three children, two of which are of european descent and the other is of asian descent
GPT-4 gnerated image of a zombie-like dad tickling his three children, two of which are of european descent and the other is of asian descent

Me: Hey y'all,
I don't feel so good,
I need to go lay down.
Just gotta sleep it off. 
Kids: (drop what they're doing,
shriek with laughter,
run to another room)

Thus begins our family ritual of Zombie Ticklefest. It’s a game of sorts. I find the nearest couch, prop my head on a pillow and say some version of “I’m feeling a little sick, just need to rest it off” (in early versions of the game, my partner would ask “Sorry, is there anything I can do?”, now she just smiles and walks away). Meanwhile, they’re planning something and it has to do with finding me. “When he moves, yell tacos!”

Over the course of a few minutes, I start to groan more and more like an undead creature. When the coast is clear, I get up and hide somewhere in the house. Now the hunt begins.

The kids execute their plan, which is roughly that they need to find me, somehow. Sometimes they arm themselves with attack weapons, for example pillows. Their plans have increased in complexity over the years. Recently, they set an iPad next to my face when I was resting and hit the record button so they’d know where I went. Good strategy, poor execution; the iPad toppled over and recorded a few minutes of black. It all comes to a crescendo when one of them spots me.

Depending on the progression of my disease, I may run away scared, stop dead in my tracks and look at them, or chase them as though I am the undead, hungry to eat children. This is when the game gets loud. All of the grunts from me and screams from them. Our dog doesn’t like this part.

If I’m lucky enough to catch one, I’ll quickly grab them, turn them upside down, and run towards the place where I took a nap. That’s my base. The dog hates this part.

If we make it to my base, I begin to wildly tickle them, how a zombie would eat their victim. They begin to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably. The dog attacks me also, but she’s a 9 lb ball of fur and emotions so it’s not that bad. As soon as another kid hits me with a pillow, gives me a “shot”, or otherwise makes some effort to stop me, I return to my slumber and release the kid(s) I was tickling. Those I attacked get up quickly and they retreat fast, usually back to another round of planning.

We repeat this another 1-4 times, depending on what life is doing around us. The game is over when I wake up from my nap and ask what they did while I was asleep.

I am not trying to win the ”Bandit Healer Dad of the Year” award for telling this story. For every fun game like this, I make 2-3x more mistakes depending on the day, though I want to believe that that ratio is slowly falling. Sometimes they request it and I just don’t have the energy in me; work got me that day, or I exercised too hard and didn’t eat enough to recover. I see the sadness on their faces and my heart breaks a little.

What I want to convey with this story is there will come a time where the following happens:

Me: I am feeling kinda bad.
Let me just sleep it off. 
Kids: (rolling their eyes,
continue about their business)
Dad, we don't play that dumb game. 
Me: (sobs uncontrollably)

Your kids will never, ever tell you when the last of “whatever” just occurred. Giving them a bath, pushing them on a bicycle with training wheels, reading a book to them for bedtime, drawing pictures on the wall with a sharpie, etc. The list is near infinite. I will also not know that this was the last time. If I am paying attention, some amount of months will pass and I’ll look in the mirror one day and say “oh my gods we haven’t played Zombie Ticklefest in a year”. This is a day of reckoning. Those days hurt bad.

If I have learned anything over the past 11 years of being a parent, it’s this. On that day of reckoning, start thinking about what the next iteration of Zombie Ticklefest looks like for your family. A game that needs very little introduction and everyone knows to assume their role when the game begins. It doesn’t matter what it is, but everyone has to be on board. You may have different games for different sets of family members, I don’t care. You do you.

I don’t know what the next game looks like for my family but I guarantee you that it won’t involve a deranged zombie, tickling them until they tap out, or music festivals.

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Maintained by Scott Burns.