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.

1 comment:

  1. When Caleb was 4 years old we lived in Houston. Eastern Airlines offered a one time deal of $99.00 round trip from Houston to Orlando. It was actually a mail run and they were including passengers. So...we bought 2 tickets for Ralph and I, Caleb sitting on my lap and we took advantage of the 6:00am to midnight flight. One day at Disneyworld..what could be easier or cheaper? See Disneyworld, stay for light parade and hop a cab back to airport...well everyone else at Disneyworld also took advantage of deal and was looking for that cab at 10:30pm, too. Can not even describe the chaos of a plane full of tired parents and children flying back to Houston. As we were walking down the hall to the terminal a lady and 3 children collapsed in her waiting husband's arms. SHe hoarsly whispered, "tell me again how much money we saved for me to take the kids to hell for the day!" Still laughing over that commment.