I remember going to the NCAA tournament with my family like yesterday even though it was many March Madnesses ago.
My first memory is of the tears of my son, Middle Man, hit the downtown Indianapolis pavement as swarms of NCAA basketball fans buzzed by us in all directions. A piece of his action figure fell off and he wanted us to find it.
We’d already walked several city blocks and were surrounded by thousands of people in Kentucky Blue and the maize and blue of Michigan. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks, but like most outings with kids, things weren’t going the way I’d imagined.
A few weeks earlier, I received a chance to get free tickets for all of us to the NCAA tournament. I was very nervous when I saw the times of the games. The second Friday night game STARTED at 10 p.m. Sure, there was no chance of my kids making it to that game but, truthfully, there was barely a chance of me staying up that late. Luckily for us, a Sunday game time was announced with a tipoff for just after 5pm. Perfect.
The 5 p.m. start time gave us just enough time to sneak in a nap for our 2-year-old, aka The Blonde Bomber. On days she doesn’t nap, it is not a pretty sight. If things were going to go well, we NEEDED her to nap. Fortunately she slept. A lot. In fact, we had to wake her so we could head downtown for the big game.
We told the kids to bring something they could play with in the car, at dinner and at the game. My 7-year-old (First Born) brought a Barbie, Middle Man brought his action figure (ironically, it was Wolverine), and Blonde Bomber managed to make it out of the house with three dice. Yes, dice. Where does she get this stuff?
I grabbed the NCAA tourney tickets while my wife assembled a diaper bag, a diaper bag only a third child deserved. All it contained was a diaper and Ziploc bag of wipes.
We quickly loaded up the car, then headed downtown. Our plan: grab an early dinner then stuff our faces with snacks at the game.
We made it downtown an hour and a half before tip off. We immediately found parking, mainly since my wife convinced me to pay for parking as opposed to my usually routine of driving in circles looking for an elusive street parking spot. Now, it was time to find food.
When we took to the streets (without a stroller), it reminded me a little bit of when the Super Bowl was in town. Crazy. Busy. Drunk sports fans, not particularly paying attention to the short people we were dragging through the streets. This was also around the same time my son lost a piece of his action figure. Honestly, it was all very overwhelming.
The first restaurant we went into was telling its customers, it would be 45 minutes. Not the walk-ins — the people who ACTUALLY HAD RESERVATIONS!
I got on my phone and called every nearby restaurant. Nothing less than an hour wait, everywhere. It looked like if we wanted to eat, we were going to miss part of the game. I was on the verge of freaking out. Then, my wife spotted a Japanese restaurant across the street. It was our last resort.
We opened the door to the Japanese restaurant leaving behind the crazy drunken college kids stumbling through the streets of downtown, to absolute silence. An oasis in the middle of a desert! It was completely bizarre. There were a few tables of people eating and a chef making sushi, but it was absolutely silent. My wife and I just kind of looked at each other in amazement. I told her it was like walking into a daycare at nap time.
Within minutes we were seated, eating edamame, and waiting for our sushi. During the wait, our kids were sword fighting, poking each other with their chop sticks, and rolling the dice they brought. I never would have guessed those were going to come in handy. So much for a quiet restaurant.
I wouldn’t say the service was the best, but they really enjoyed making sure our kids’ Shirley Temple drinks were always topped off. Sounds nice, but when your secretly trying to dehydrate your kids so they won’t have to use the bathroom at the game, it’s not that great. Honestly, we were grateful we found any place with seats open and food to serve.
After eating we headed to the stadium with just enough time to get to our seats before tipoff. Our seats for this NCAA tourney game — absolutely perfect. Our backs were to the wall of the suites, which meant we had no one directly behind us. We were on an aisle, so the kids had space to roam a bit. If given the opportunity, I would not have chosen any other seats in the place. Except maybe suites where they had beer.
The game itself went a little something like this:
Tipoff: Concession stand trip No. 1
We decided to get the messiest, most labor intense snack item possible for kids: peanuts. I spent much of first half shelling. The Blonde Bomber was eating them faster than I could shell them. Even though I was doing the work, she had the nerve to get angry when I would eat one myself.
Start of second half: Concession stand trip No. 2
Jumbo soft pretzel with cheese.
13:20 minutes remaining in the NCAA game
I get accidentally poked in the eye by my 2-year-old’s salt covered index finger.
8:00 remaining: Concession stand trip No. 3
To my disbelief, we ordered a second jumbo soft pretzel with cheese.
The ground under our seats looks like a landfill.
5:00 remaining: Fourth and final concession stand trip
We bought a bag of Reece’s Pieces so big it would have made movie theater candy jealous.
Middle Man punched the Blonde Bomber in the face over who could be the guard of the Reese’s Pieces.
Middle Man and Blonde Bomber were both crying hysterically. He was crying because we took away his candy; she was understandably upset because of the punch to the face.
My wife took over full-time parenting duty. At this point, I was too wrapped up in the back and forth of the game to do any meaningful parenting.
3 seconds left
Kentucky hit a three pointer to go up by three.
As time ran out, Michigan missed a shot that would have sent the game into overtime. I’m not sure how my family would have handled overtime, but I don’t think it would have gone well, at all. Hallelujah for the game ending in regulation time.
As soon as the buzzer went off, we headed for the exits. Most of the 35,000 fans who attended the game were UK fans and they stayed for trophy presentation so it wasn’t too bad getting out of there.
We made the long walk, actual a long carrying of the kids, back to the car. We were exhausted. It was such a fun, memorable day my family and I will never forget. What a day. What an adventure! May it never happen again.
A version of this NCAA March Madness story first appeared on Indy’s Child. Photo: © sidorovstock / Adobe Stock.
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