Friday, August 31, 2012

Life Lessons From an Amusement Park, Part V

Today is the last day of this miniseries on lessons from an amusement park.  I suspect that there might be some out there who have read this week and considered that I may just be turning into a grumpy old man.  Trust me, I’ve thought the same thing on more than one occasion over the last few weeks.  That’s a possibility and even likely to be a genetic thing, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I came across that way at all.  But I do hope that there has been some thought-provoking stuff over the last four days, regardless of whether or not it was provoked by amusement parks.

So, on this last day of posts, I really tried to think about the best takeaway that I could come up with from my amusement park musings, ponderings, and insights.  As I thought about it, amusement parks and casinos have a lot of similarities.  If you’ve ever been to a casino, you know that you can pretty much go there any time of the day or night and find things happening.  In fact, I don’t know this for a fact, but I would gather that it might be difficult to find a clock in there.  They act as a refuge from the outside world, a shelter.  Hey, other than the obvious, why else would they come up with a slogan like, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?”

Amusement parks are similar in that they do their best to shelter you from the outside world.  They offer countless distractions from reality.  Places like Disney even go out of their way to have a world behind the scenes that prevents people from seeing where the trash goes and avoid two Mickey Mouses showing up in the same place at the same time.  Tell me that wouldn’t blow a kid’s mind.

But after all of the distractions, when the day is over, there’s still reality waiting for you.  You always have to go back to that place again.  Regardless of how many times or how long you go to the “happiest place on earth,” you’re always going to have to face the realities of life.  I guess you could go one of two ways with this as well.  There might be some people who say, well, what’s the point of distractions if you eventually have to face the facts.  I’m not one of those people.  We all need to have some distractions in life, most of us call them hobbies, but in order to maintain our sanity in an unstable world, these distractions are essential.

My oldest son has been in a place where he has asked whether or not certain things are real or not.  He knows that everything that he sees is not real, especially on TV, and so he will ask my wife and me whether something is real or not.  A few weeks ago, when he saw the Olympics on TV, he asked if they were real.  While it took me by surprise at first, it made sense considering that he saw them on TV.  When we were at Busch Gardens, he had a pretty healthy understanding that the things that he saw and experienced were not reality, but it didn’t prevent him from having fun, and to me, that’s the key.

There are distractions and then there are escapes.  Distractions have a way of clearing our heads, helping us to reconnect to a situation with new perspectives and insights.  Escapes are simply means of avoiding the inevitable.  The two words may be used more interchangeably than they should be, but I do see a clear distinction between them.  Distractions can help us to find joy and excitement outside of the mundane or difficult circumstances that we might regularly face.  Escapes simply attempt to stay away from those circumstances for as long as possible.

Amusement parks to just what they say, they amuse us.  At least, for the price tag, I hope they do.  And that’s a good thing.  But the minute that we find ourselves escaping to our own little private “amusement parks” on a regular basis, we need to do a health check and find out what the deeper issue is.  A week away from internet, Facebook, work, and cable was a good thing to remind me of that.  We all need to unplug and remember the things in life that are important to us.  It might not last long, but how long it lasts shouldn’t matter as much as what we do with the time that we allot for it.

A few years ago, I was getting into a rhythm of taking a day a month to have a spiritual retreat day.  Sometimes I would just go to a local park, other times I drove a distance to a lake house owned by some people in my church.  If I spent my time wisely, it was life-giving, a time of recharge in which I would gain new perspective and be ready to face new challenges when I got back to reality again.  That’s what distractions can provide for us, but hopefully they are guided distractions.  Sometimes mine are, and sometimes they aren’t.  I need to get better at it, but I’m still learning and growing.

Someday, I’m going to get back to the “happiest place on earth” again.  It will be a fun distraction from the realities of life, but I hope that when I come back to the ground of reality, I will be a little more calm, a little more relaxed, and a little more ready to face the things before me.  Everybody needs a little time away!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life Lessons From an Amusement Park, Part IV

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that kids don’t have any concept of how much things cost.  In many ways, amusement parks use this to their advantage just as commercials on television do.  What can play to the heart strings of a loving parent more than their sweet child asking, “Mommy/Daddy, can I please have one of those?”  The question is what measures have parents taken to be prepared for such questions.

My wife had a brilliant idea a few months ago when our boys continually were telling her that they wanted this thing or that thing that they had seen advertised on TV or the internet.  She told them that they could each make up a list of the things that they want.  It has worked well in that the boys continue to put things on their lists and they either forget about what they have put there, or they emphasize their desire for the things on that list.  Hopefully, it’s encouraging a sense of delayed gratification for them as well, helping them to realize that they don’t get everything that they want and they certainly don’t get it right away.

My wife and I have shared with our kids about our experience at Disney World.  They have been interested and excited to hear about the different things that we experienced and that they hope to experience some day.  Although we don’t know when we might take a trip there, the stories that we tell them are generating an excitement and anticipation of the experience that they one day hope to have.

I grew up the same way, never being able to get exactly what I wanted when I wanted it but having to wait for it.  The delayed gratification was helpful to me later in life, it decreased the number of impulse purchases that I made and helped me anticipate what I really wanted more.  Our society does its best to fool us into thinking that we can and should have what we want now and wait to pay for it.  Credit card debt is probably at a level that our parents and grandparents could never even have imagined.  We have been fooled into thinking that we can have the things that we think we need now and delay our payment of it.  If we pay things off in the allotted time, that’s somewhat true, but if we don’t, we’ll pay a hefty price.

As I mentioned about our trip to Busch Gardens, the lines weren’t incredibly long as it was late in the season, but we still had to wait.  Waiting for things seems to have a benefit though.  There’s the anticipation that I mentioned, but there is also a time to determine whether the thing that is being waited for is really worth the wait.  There are certain things that we might impulsively buy or do that had we had the time we may not have purchased or done.  Waiting gives us the opportunity to really assess a situation and can help us decipher the difference between a “want” and a “need.”

Waiting is helpful not only for buying things, but for doing them as well.  Waiting to get a tattoo might mean that you choose not to spend the money and get one after all.  Waiting to get married might save us from making a wrong decision that could result in pain later on.  Waiting to make a decision on something can help us to accumulate wise counsel from people whom we trust before making the decision.  While not many of us really like to wait, waiting has a lot of benefits.

One of the rides that my wife and boys went on last week was a scary ride.  They didn’t know that it was scary until they were already on it, and by that time it was too late.  I don’t think that my boys suffered any irreparable harm in riding it, but it certainly taught us a lesson: get a description before you ride.  Some amusement parks will give you a brochure with a brief description of the rides and what to watch out for, we didn’t have anything like that at Busch Gardens, but it sure would have been helpful.

Life is like that too.  Many times, we walk into things of which we have very little description.  There’s no rule book, no description, and sometimes, no one that we know who’s been there before.  Even if we find someone who has experienced a similar situation, they are not us and we all face different experiences in very different ways.

Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  There will always be situations that are new to us, but chances are, someone, somewhere has been through similar situations before.  When we surround ourselves with people who are wise, we will be much better prepared for these kinds of situations.  Of course, it’s not a foolproof approach, but it can sure help to eliminate some of the unknown.  Couple that with actually taking advantage of waiting through our circumstances, we can learn a lot.  Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, will we take advantage of it or not.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life Lessons From an Amusement Park, Part III

I’ve spent the last few days talking about consideration for others in my musings about amusement parks.  Along the same line, another thing that I realized at the amusement park was my own selfishness.  Vacationing without kids and with kids is very different.  The last time that I had gone to an amusement park prior to last week was seven years ago with my wife, just the two of us.  No kids, extra magic hours, and unlimited possibilities.  Going to amusement parks with kids is a whole new ballgame.

When my wife and I went to Disney, we had very little limitations.  We took advantage of Extra Magic Hours.  We got a dining plan that took care of the majority of our meals.  We watched everything that was going on around us.  After all, like I said in a previous post, this was our “Last Hurrah” trip before we started our family, so we wanted to observe what people with kids were doing.

Disney isn’t cheap, neither is any amusement park, for that matter.  Simply paying for a day’s admission to the park is costly, so package deals seem to be the way to go.  That’s what we did when we went to Disney.  We would also pick a “park of the day” and leave first thing in the morning and stay as late as we could.  At the end of the day, it was always interesting to observe families, some of whom had pushed the limits of the endurance of both parents and children.  On more than one occasion, we observed some parents whose patience had seemingly run out hours before yelling at their kids who had begun the meltdown process long ago.

To be honest, I could see both sides of the equation then and I can see both sides of the equation now.  If you spend a significant amount of money to go to an amusement park, you want to get the most for your money.  Unfortunately, that can easily translate to urgency and impatience as well as frustration.  When my wife and I observed this, we vowed to each other that we would not do that to ourselves or to our kids.  Of course, the challenge of a vow like that is keeping it.

We were very mindful of this vow as we were en route to the amusement park last week.  The hours of operation of the amusement park are 10am until 8pm and we did not anticipate that we would be there from open until close, not with a nearly 1, 4, and 6 year old.  We figured that we would let our time at the park be determined by our children rather than let that determination be made by us.  Of course, a kids’ perspective of an amusement park is so different than our own, and it’s a challenge trying to decipher that.

First of all, kids have no concept of money.  They have no idea that every snack, every game, and every souvenir costs money.  This new world is before them and they think that life gives them everything.  In retrospect, I probably could have prepared them better for that, but I expect that only my oldest would have been able to grasp that at all.  Surprisingly, they did not overly fuss when we told them that all of the various treats laid out before them were not free and we did not have the money to spend on all of them.

Kids also have no concept of waiting in line.  We have done our best to teach our kids that patience is a necessity, things don’t come immediately, unlike the message our culture seems to convey to us.  It was somewhat advantageous to be going to an amusement park in August when the numbers were down, the lines were shorter and the wait times limited.  It was also to our advantage that they had never experienced anything like this before, it was all new and they were none the wiser for the various experiences that they had.  They were perfectly content to ride simple rides over and over and over again.  What seemed boring and mundane to me was actually exciting and invigorating for them.

We saw this at the end of our 2nd day at Busch Gardens when we went to the Sesame Street Forest of Fun and the kids, including my 11 month old, played in the water area.  They were content to run through the water sprays and buckets that endlessly poured gallons of water onto them.  As I sat watching them enjoy themselves, I thought about the simplicity of what they were experiencing and the joy that they were getting from these experiences.  Certainly a lesson that I can afford to learn.  It’s the simple things in life that sometimes give us the greatest pleasure, and my kids were proof of that.

Our kids also have no concept of what rides that we, their parents, want to go on.  One day, I will go to an amusement park with my kids and they will want to go on the same rides as me.  Right now, not only do they not want to do that, but they also aren’t allowed to because of height restrictions.  The first day that we were at Busch Gardens, all that I wanted to do was go on the new roller coaster.  Fortunately, my wife was gracious and understanding and my kids actually thought that it was cool for their dad to ride a ride called “Verbolten.”  So, I stood in line and when I was about to get on, the ride broke down.  Really?  Are you kidding me?  All I could think about was my poor wife, stuck with three kids while I was awaiting my time to go on a ride whose downtime was unknown.

After that ride, I was pretty content, as well as jostled a bit.  I was happy to dutifully follow my kids around and go on the rides that they wanted to go on.  Secretly, inside, I was still wishing for them to go on some “big kid” rides, but for the most part, I was pretty content.

I realized how important it was for me to enter into this amusement park situation with limited expectations, for myself and my kids.  The only major expectation that I had for all of us was that we have fun.  I wanted this to be a great experience for my kids, and seeing as they had never experienced an amusement park before, the sky was the limit, anything was possible.

Honestly, I’m all for expectations, in amusement parks and in life, but flexibility is a good thing.  While we may lay down our own expectations of how things go, we certainly can’t control everything.  If we think that we can, we’ve probably been living in a delusional world.  I have a friend who would constantly state that we should, “Embrace plan B.”  It’s actually a good approach, a constant reminder of our need for flexibility and the inevitable fact that things don’t always go the way that we plan them to go.

Embrace plan B.  Words to live by, both in amusement parks and in life.  I’ve heard it said that if you want to hear God laugh, simply tell him your plans.  While I think it’s an overstatement and a little simplistic, we can probably all stand to hold on a little more loosely to our expectations, not necessarily approaching life with no plan at all, but definitely being flexible when things get thrown at us that our out of our control.  There’s something to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:3, “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.””  Sometimes, we just need to take a simpler approach towards life, like our kids.  If we do it, we’ll probably find ourselves a little less frustrated and a whole lot more flexible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Life Lessons From an Amusement Park, Part II

Yesterday, I posted about the consideration, or lack thereof, of people within amusement parks, particularly when it comes to slower moving people.  I hadn’t even mentioned that there are also elderly people within these parks that need to be treated respectfully and considered in their maneuvering through the parks.  I mentioned a trip to Disney that my wife and I took seven years ago and when we went, one of my theories had been the idea of creating specific thoroughfares within the park for different speeds of travel, sort of like what’s supposed to happen on our highways.  The right lane is for slower moving traffic, the middle lane is for traveling at a normal or moderate pace, and the left lane is for faster travelers or those who are passing the ones in the middle or right lane.  Of course, we all know how that doesn’t easily translate from paper to reality.  Today, I want to talk about another thing to consider, in amusement parks and in life: how we talk, how we act, and how we dress. 

If you want to see a great display of PDA (Public Display of Affection) just go to an amusement park.  People somehow find that waiting in lines for rides somehow gives them the freedom and right to engage in intimate activities with their significant others.  This hasn’t changed in years.  When I was a teenager, I remember going to Action Park in New Jersey and experiencing the same thing, potentially even partaking in this kind of behavior.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve studied emotional health enough to know that there are certain things that indicate positive emotional health and certain indicators of negative emotional health.  There are limits to the amount of affectionate behavior that are appropriate in public and when we need more, we certainly have to ask ourselves about our own emotional health.  Somehow or another, our culture has told us that it is our right to do whatever it is that we want in public.  To be prohibited from this kind of behavior is to have our human rights taken away.  This kind of ideology has poisoned our culture, it has taken the focus off of “the other” and put it squarely upon the individual.  I’m just not sure that behavior that should generally be reserved for the privacy of a room with closed doors should be displayed for all the world to see.

It’s not just behavior though, it’s the way that we talk and the things that we wear.  Many people will respond with the fact that it’s their right to say, do, and wear whatever it is that they want, but do we consider that there are people who just don’t want to see or hear certain things when they go out in public.  I’m not advocating the creation of “bubble worlds” where reality is put on hold and we live in a dream world, but I am advocating the idea of temperance.  Just because we have the “right” to do, say, and wear whatever it is we want to does not mean that we always need to exercise that right.  If I drive a Ferrari, it can go pretty fast, if I see it as my right to push it to its limit, I take on certain risks that are associated with that.

Just like traffic moving through amusement parks, our wardrobe, language, and behavior need to be considered because everyone might not want to experience these things.  Of course, we could go far to one side or another here, but walking in the middle ground may be an alternative that allows for us to exercise our freedoms and “rights” while still being considerate of those around us.  If we choose to talk, dress, or act without consideration for those around us, we can’t all of a sudden claim concern for our fellow human beings when it becomes convenient for us.  We need to be consistent here.  It’s not a consideration of convenience, it’s an unconditional consideration. 

This is absolutely something that I need to consider myself as well.  I cannot claim concern for those around me when it is convenient.  To be honest, part of our concern for those around us needs to be selfless and there is a conflict between concern for others and concern for our own rights.  We really can’t have it both ways.  That’s the essence of healthy relationships, they are full of give and take.  If we are simply concerned for ourselves and our own rights all the time, our relationships will not be healthy, they will be selfish.  If we show concern and care for those around us, we will be less likely to be so self-consumed because we will have our eyes fixed firmly on those around us.

Maybe I’m taking this too far, but I really think that it comes down to consideration again.  While I may be criticized for a call to modesty in our dress, actions, and speech in public, I still hold to the belief that we all need to be considerate.  How do we talk, how do we dress, and how do we act when we’re around others?  Do we temper our behavior or do we see it as our right to do whatever it is that we want to do?  Next time you’re out and about in public, look at those around you and see what they do, then take a look at yourself and ask whether or not you’re considering others or simply considering yourself.