To everything there is a season, and if summer means lolling by the pool to parents, to their offspring it all too often means theme parks.
In our family there exists an unwritten agreement between the consenting adults that we will set foot in a theme park no more than once in any five-year period. There are two good reasons for this. The first is that it allows our children to feel somewhat deprived--a very healthy thing for modern children. The second is that because they get to go only once in a while, they are actually grateful for our efforts. In fact, I can report that in our family the gratitude once lasted for over 24 hours.
Thus, when one of our preteen daughters confided to me, in the most accusatory tones, the information that she was embarrassed before her friends--all of whom, mind you, have elders who regularly and with great gusto propel them, giggling, of course, through one theme park after the other--I was not shocked. The source of her pain? She had never been to Park Wee Wootsey Woolly Bear.
Well. When a child crosses the line between deprived and embarrassed, the time has come to bite the parental bullet. Besides, she had rolled soulful brown eyes at me, suggesting she was prepared to be grateful.
When the much longed-for vacation starts to become a broad expanse of ghostly summer days, a theme park trip--judiciously placed on the summer calendar--can give a restless kid a mini-vacation to anticipate. Plan it right, and you might even be able to fend off the summer blahs of dog days. These directives might keep you from getting too banged up by parental generosity.
1) When you hit the ticket booth, try not to choke over the price you are forced to pay for a few hours' mayhem. You are there, Lord knows, so you might as well play the jolly parent. Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to consider the theater tickets you could have bought with the same money.
2) Open up your map of the playground. Circle the times and locations of all shows offered that day. Even if you have seen every dolphin show presented since aught 5, it is important to attend this one because you will be allowed to sit in a stationary position for 30 minutes. Besides, at least one of the shows is likely to be air-conditioned.
3) All children within a year's time of acquiring a learner's permit should be delivered, at the outset, to the bumper cars and instructed to stay there until they have gotten it all out of their systems. If you decide to participate, you and your children should occupy separate cars. This allows you to whack the beejeezus out of each other all in the name of good clean fun.
4) Tell the kids you need a bird's-eye view of the park to plan your choice of rides. Get on the air lift. Keep your eyes straight ahead. Refuse to get off.
5) Affect a scientific interest in the overall structure of the roller coaster. Notice that this necessitates your viewing it from a distance rather than up close. Comment on the angle of descent and the velocity, which will of course be less than you experienced at Glen Echo in July 1950. Speculate on the psychological motives people have for wanting to scare themselves to death. Show no fear.
6) Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to be finagled onto the roller coaster. Any child too young to go without you must be ignored. You are too old to go with him. Ride the airlift again.
7) If it is hot--of course it will be hot--go for any ride that swings gently in the breeze or floats on water. Consider seeing the air-conditioned show a second time.
8) While in a queue, try not to feel like a sheep being led to slaughter. Consider that there are countries where people do not queue up at all. That is the true meaning of the word "herd."
9) In one of the show pavilions with no seats, consider a nap. I know a man capable of simply stretching out on the carpeted floor with a "Wake me when it's over."
10) Just because park employes are committed to keeping the place open until 10 p.m. is no reason for you and your children to encourage them. Go home early. Pretend you are winging it on the airlift and that your feet are not sore. Think Paris. Even though there are rides in the Bois du Boulogne.