If I had to break it down into percentages, it would look like this:
- 5% good times (which we DID catch on film, phew!)
- 70% of our toddler crying and screaming and making everyone in the theme park look at us like “THOSE parents.”
- 10% eating disgusting, overpriced food completely void of nutrients that guaranteed no bowel movements for any of us.
- 5% six year old misbehavior (not too shabby!)
- 3% gaudy souvenirs that we somehow got tricked into thinking we couldn’t live without.
- 5% frustration with the hotel that put us on a smoking floor, despite my best efforts to explain that my kids (and me) have asthma and allergies, and then having to move at bedtime to a new room.
- 2% eye rolling and quoting any of the various Vacation movies, starring Chevvy Chase.
I’m not sure what made me desperately drag my family four hours away from home up a mountain to a fantasy themed park. I had impulsively booked us a 36 hour getaway, determined that we would have fun.
We had been to this park twice before when Jack was still an only child, and it was the smoothest and most idyllic vacation I could imagine. This year, we had a long, hot summer without any real vacation together as a family, so I thought a little jaunt would be a nice diversion.
In my mind, Emily slept peacefully on the car rides up and back, we all ogled at the glorious nature, the weather was perfect, and everyone was happy.
Apparently, despite watching the Vacation movies more times than I have fingers and toes, I have learned nothing. Because when you are a parent, nothing ever goes according to plan, and this little expedition was no exception.
Emily, our tenacious toddler, slept nary a wink on the four hour trip up, making for a defiant cranky-pants by the time we arrived at the theme park. (I don’t even want to tell you about the dicey sit-down lunch we attempted prior to the park.) In a fantasy land with butterfly islands, princesses, and all manner of ride, she was miserable. Not even Mother Goose herself could make my poor child smile.
In her defense, it was probably like a bad acid trip and she could just not catch the wind. When I put myself in Emily’s shoes, I imagine Fantasy Land must have been overwhelmingly bright, noisy, and confusing. She must have been wondering why there was a bear chasing her and why that sunflower was winking and singing at her.
As for Jack, he was thrilled! And he wanted to go on every ride all at once three times, but couldn’t because his parents were wrangling a fussy, pit-viper of a baby who made her mother’s ear drums ring with her crying while waiting in line for the antique German carousal. His frustration was palpable, as evidenced by the scowl on his face and his refusal to pose in any photos with his sister.
We got back to the hotel on our collective last nerve. My one good decision of the day was getting take out for dinner to eat in the room where no one could give me the hairy-eyeball for allowing my exhausted and overstimulated kids to stand on their chairs, eat with their fingers, and smear ranch dressing into their curls to form a greasy and rank-smelling mohawk.
After a very brief swim, we all slept well. We woke refreshed and excited to try the Fantasy Land again.
For the most part, the day went well. My husband and I did a lot of divide and conquer, alternating who got to chase Em or go on rides with Jack. Jack and I laughed our heads off on the tea cups and squealed with delight on the little roller coaster.
As a family we went on the ferris wheel, and on a magic swan-boat ride. On the latter, Emily totally decompensated into a screaming ball of terrible toddler, and all I could do was look apologetically at the other parents, grandparents, and well-behaved children, while holding on to my thrashing daughter who seemed determined to splash into the pond and swim on out to butterfly island.
“Sorry,” I mouthed silently with a weak smile to the lady in the tie-dye sundress staring icily at me.
We hit the road after lunch to head for home. I was certain Emily and Jack would snooze in the car after such a busy day. Wrong again. Emily fussed and cried almost the entire way home, which in turn set off Jack. So we had two screaming kids we would have re-homed in a heartbeat.
Disgusted. Disgruntled. Disappointed. Depressed.
That was how I arrived home. After two more rounds of tantrums triggered by trouble transitioning back to real life from Fantasy Land, we got the kids to bed, unpacked the car and collapsed. If I had to put a percentage on it, I was 95% certain I would never take those children on a trip again.
But then I thought about Chevy Chase and the Vacation movies.
I think the thing I love about those flicks is that in the end, no matter how crappy things have been, the family realizes that it’s all good as long as they are together. All those obstacles that stand in the way of a good time are pure challenge and ultimate escape from the Quotidian struggle.
For some reason, I felt a real strength in realizing that we had made it to the end of our journey in one piece, together. Sure we were exhausted, and our wallets were a lot lighter. Sure there were a lot of moments of sheer frustration and cricks in our necks from the horrible hotel bed, but I don’t think those are the things we will remember from our trip.
I could remember the crying, empty calories, tantrums, and irritation.
Or, I can remember twirling in the tea cups with Jack, the look of wonder on Emily’s face as an animatronic sunflower sang to her, and the looks of love and amazement exchanged between their parents.