What is it about water parks? They are the Mecca of kid-friendly fun and family vacations. They are crowded and noisy and stressful to adults. They are wondrous and wet and wild to children and teens. They can entertain, frustrate or terrify in equal parts depending on who you go with and how tired you are when you get there. We happen to live in the home town of the original Schlitterbahnn, which according to the Travel Channel is one of the top ten best water parks in the world. How about that? Such a lofty title for a locally-owned and operated business in our little town. So, naturally, whenever friends or family from out of town come to visit, a trip to this legendary land of aquatic marvels is on the agenda. Not that we mind going – season passes are always on our Christmas list. The difference in these trips is this – when we go as locals who have a pass and can return whenever we feel like it, the schedule is much more lax. We show up at one of the older parts of the park as soon as it opens with our ice chests and packed lunches. We play in the areas that are least crowded and appeal to us that day. Then, we leave shortly after lunch, thus avoiding the crowds and craziness. When people who can’t return multiple times pay full price for a ticket, that plan is not a working one.
My nieces are here visiting, and so today was the day for their aquatic extravaganza. Given that I don’t work on Mondays and there is no way my mother-in-law (who we call Oma) can chase all the kids alone (they are here without their parents this trip) and my husband had to work (somehow, taking a day off was an absolute impossibility today – chicken), I was nominated for the adventure at hand. Can you feel the enthusiasm radiating from me?
All three of my kids have managed to have a massive allergy attack in the past two days, especially the little one, so they woke up this morning with runny noses and bleary eyes. I was up half the night with the Bug since she crawled into bed with us around 3:30am and spent the remainder of sleep time snoring, kicking or wrapping her arm as tightly as she could around my neck. Cute? Somewhat. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. We spent yesterday at a trampoline park and the day before at a huge reunion party at the river, so everyone was exhausted before we even got into our swimsuits. I stumbled into the kitchen to wrap leftover pizza and sandwiches, fruit, chips, goldfish crackers and buck sticks in bags for the cooler along with water and my protein shake for lunch. I chased kids and threatened them into their bathing suits and flip flops as I guzzled my current protein shake – today was Day 1 of my 21-Day weight loss meal plan, because I have a plan and a schedule to stick to regardless of how poor and impractical the timing of it is, thank you very much. These hips won’t shrink themselves, you know.
I managed to cram kids, towels, an ice chest and wagon into the suburban and away we went to pick up Oma and any cousins who weren’t already with us. We pulled into the parking lot, unloaded, and headed into line a full 30 minutes before the park even opened. Yep, we were on our way. I stood in line doing the 100-squat mommy workout of picking the toddler up, putting the toddler down, picking the toddler up, putting the toddler down (repeat, repeat, repeat, because it never gets old), the lunging in multiple directions dance of grabbing various children as they attempt to kill each other, jump around and crash into other people surrounding them, and the head tilt with sympathetic voice apologies to all those around who are getting hit with bags, wagon handles and flying shoes as we wait.
I stood melting and muttering in line – just me, my three kids, two nieces, one nephew, my mother-in-law and approximately five thousand tourists. I seriously think this must be a glimpse of one of the lower levels of hell. And let’s just ponder a few things, shall we? We have plenty of time, so here goes. Why don’t people have their money out when they get to the window? Why does no one ever seem to know just how many members of their party there are? Why can teenage girls who get to enter without a parent not do math, therefore taking five times as long as the average human to pay for everything? And why, for the love of Pete, does Schlitterbahnn not have a season pass holder line so they can expedite our butts on through there? Take a note from Disney, people! After 27 minutes of waiting, I was nearing lunatic status. We were early! What the heck? Plus, I started to panic a little, since I got really light-headed and couldn’t feel my hands. Apparently, a protein shake and green coffee bean supplement do not a substantial breakfast make. Shocking, I know.
We made it in, counted heads, sun screened bodies and faces (to the tune of protests), pulled hair into ponytails (to even louder protests) and formed groups and safety buddies. I helped Oma and Bug find the kiddy area, then schlepped it back and forth up and down hills to pull and carry all of our belongings to the optimal table. I felt like a pack mule, and I’m sure looked about as happy as one. One of my trips, I ran into the older set of kids and actually told them that at some point I better get to ride something because I pay for everything and so far was not having any fun. Yep. Take a note, friends. That is Mother of the Year fodder right there. Put it on the nomination reel.
I ran check-in for each group of kids. I set up our table. I made sure everyone was hydrating. I nodded enthusiastically enough to do any bobble head proud to every call of, “Mommy, watch me!” and, “Mommy, watch me, again!” My middle son, Drew, and younger niece, Aly, were circling around the baby pool and small slides, behaving quite nicely, I must say. I called them over and asked, “You guys wanna go do a big ride?” The way their faces lit up galvanized me into action with more energy than I had actually in my body. So off we went, to stand in line for the Dragon’s Revenge. It’s not actually very fun to stand in line for a ride with two seven-year-olds. They have a lot of trouble keeping their hands to themselves and have no concept of time. Still, we got very silly and chatty, and the wait wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This is the point at which my day began to change. There is comradery among people waiting for a fun ride, and I found myself smiling and chatting with my line-mates to pass the time. The kids got their double tube, I got mine, and we began the trek up the hill to the ride entrance. Watching them work out the multiple variations of ways to carry the tube between them was quite amusing.
We wound our way through the castle archway and water pouring and spraying the path. We exclaimed over the props and warning signs of impending dragon danger and doom. We giggled and danced in excitement as we got closer to the front of the line. We watched the riders ahead of us shoot up the slide and out of sight. I chuckled to myself a few times as the petite teen lifeguard struggled her way through pushing and shoving tubes with heavier riders, some of whom had to stand up and help her. Aly and Drew agreed that I should go first, so I could watch them at the end of the ride. My mood was rapidly uplifting and changing for the better.
Finally, we were at the front of the line. I sat in my double tube (alone, since the cousins were riding together) and the sweet young life guard gave me a shove. Oh, my relief that she was able to move me along without too much effort or multiple tries! I waved at the kids as I shot out of the entrance and up the first incline (how do they manage that so well? It feels like magic. Yes, I know it’s water pressure. Let me have this moment.). I found myself laughing out loud as I hurtled through space and slide. I caught my breath as I entered the first dark tunnel, letting it out in a startled huff as I exploded into the sunlight. This pattern repeated several times along the ride, some tunnels with the addition of flashing lights, fake “fire” and fog or mists. Each time I rounded a bend or flew through a water spray I laughed harder. I felt myself let go – of my weariness and irritation, of my stress over this week’s schedule (it’s going to be a doozy), of my resentment of the myriad of things on my list that at some point bring resentment forth in me, of my expectations and my to-do list and my self-criticisms. I soared in my tube and I found my wonder again. I remembered why, as a child and even young adult, I loved coming to the water park. I remembered why it’s a blessing to have these days and times with my children and the children in my family to create memories and celebrate fun. I remembered….and I laughed….and I felt a level of freedom and gratitude I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I floated down the final stretch of the ride, coming to a stop by yet another cute life guard who helped me out of my tube and told me to have a nice day. As I thanked him, I thought, “I most certainly will”. Then I turned to watch my son and my niece shoot down their final descent. I know their shining faces mirrored my own. And that gave me such joy.
The rest of my day was very different from the first part. My heart sang a new song, and I saw the attractions and participants in a new light. Instead of screams of the unruly, I heard squeals of the delighted. Instead of pushing crowds, I saw eager fun-seekers. Instead of rude tourists, I focused on the polite manners that I witnessed. Instead of a protein shake, I had pizza and buck sticks and cherries for lunch. I swam and wrestled and slid and jumped. I smiled and sunned and people-watched and played. I even joined in the frenzy and ended the day with my own cup of Dipping Dots (chocolate, is any other kind worth the calories?).
I’ll do Day 1 over tomorrow.
I’ll be a grown-up tomorrow.
And I’ll think about today with a smile.
Solidarity, sisters. Our time of wonder is far from over.