Friday, May 15, 2015

Vacation, Part 2: "Due to approaching inclement weather, we will be temporarily closing many of our attractions..."

We arrived at our hotel an hour or so later. There were about 75 people in the lobby, dressed to the nines. More were unloading in the parking lot; laughing in the rooms behind the front desk; partying in the pool from what we'd seen when we'd driven by. Apparently we'd stumbled upon a great deal of people celebrating some sort of occasion.

"There sure are a lot of coloreds here tonight," someone from the hotel staff remarked to Dan in the elevator. Since he didn't know how to respond to that, he continued quietly on his way to our third floor room.

Yes, the South is a different place.

But Mother's Day dawned bright and sunny, a relief after seeing some sketchy forecasts the day before due to a pesky tropical storm that had decided to form (in May??) nearby. Somehow, despite my weather-geek background, I'd not heard about it. We didn't need to deal with a tropical storm! We were headed to Busch Gardens!

I'd never been there, but Dan had fantastic memories of a childhood trip to the park and had plans for all of the coasters he was going to tackle with the kids. Four years ago in Tennessee Anna hadn't batted an eye at riding on her very first upside down coaster. Now Ethan was tall enough to ride at least two of the "grown up" coasters, too.

The parking lot was blissfully near-empty, evidence that visiting a theme park on Mother's Day might not be an exceedingly popular idea. We walked through the gates, admiring the lush flowers and gardens, headed straight to the brand new coaster...and the wheels came off the bus.

"I can't ride that," Anna said forcefully, her eyes fixed on the spiraling track. Dan was befuddled. "What about the one next to it? The standup coaster?"

Our daughter was growing more nervous. "I can't do it. It's too scary. Please, please, don't make me do it." The tears started.

"I want to go on a coaster! When can I ride a coaster?!" Ethan started exclaiming.

I didn't get it. Anna wasn't one to be fearful. She'd given us absolutely no indication that she no longer liked to ride coasters. I thought back to the Ferris wheel the night before; to the video she'd watched on YouTube of the Bizarro ride at Six Flags New England. In it a guy in the crowd had said, "Did you know someone died on this ride?" Was that where this was coming from? Was it that darned "Air Disasters" episode (never again, I say -- never again!) that had helped her see that yeah, sometimes scary things happen?

"Aren't you going to ride any coasters?" Dan asked incredulously, the disappointment in his voice unmistakable. Twice over the years we'd taken trips to big theme parks primarily to ride the coasters. He was sure she'd just been waiting to get tall enough.

Anna kept shaking her head, obviously petrified. We all walked around, dazed, crestfallen, and yeah, angry for a few minutes while Ethan continued to wail and plead to ride a coaster. I told Dan to go ride the standup so at least he could enjoy a coaster ride.

The kids climbed on the Tea Cups, and I stood, heart sinking. There was nothing really wrong with her not wanting to ride coasters. What bothered me is that it was so unlike her, and what bothered me was to see Anna giving in to fear. As someone who hates watching stunts because I'm waiting for someone to die, who keeps an eye on airplanes to make sure they stay in the sky, I had taken some relief in seeing that Anna had always seemed much more happy-go-lucky, so less prone to imagining worst case scenarios. Until now.

We knew we had to buck up and enjoy the place. Chloe, at least, was happy as a little clam in her stroller. We found a play area for her that involved water and she went to town.

I took the kids on a few rides while Dan stayed with her, and we all went searching for the Verbooten, one of the two other roller coasters Ethan could ride.

There was a chain-link fence in front of the Verbooten. "Sorry, mechanical problems," said the guy keeping watch to make sure everyone kept out. "We're not sure when it'll be fixed."

Sigh. The kids rode the giant swings and Dan and I leaned on a fence, looking down at a stream. Anna's words kept running through my head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I disappointed you," she kept saying. She was right. She HAD disappointed especially Dan, who had great plans of replicating his childhood trip and riding coasters with his kids.

I hated to hear her apologize. It reminded me of growing up as the child who always tried to make everyone happy. We couldn't let her think she was ruining everything, that the weight of her parents' happiness rested on her back.

"We HAVE to let her be a kid," I said to Dan. "Even if it's frustrating." He agreed. And so we dropped the pressure, checked out a few more rides, even got the kids to ride the Loch Ness Monster (a smaller upside down coaster!) and were taking a boat ride as a family when the monsoon started. I hadn't even noticed the sun disappear.

Ahhh, this is one of those tropical showers that'll clear up in a few minutes, I figured. We ventured back into the park and quickly realized just how hard it was raining. In minutes we were completely drenched, and Ethan added to the excitement by jumping into the deepest puddles he could find.

Drenched during the first rainstorm
"This has got to end soon, right?" I asked Dan as we purchased some $8 pretzels. After that I headed with Anna and Ethan to the log ride, figuring we were already soaked, why not try a water ride?

There was just one family in front of us in line when suddenly, it stopped. There was a threat of severe weather nearby, the ride operator said, so they'd just gotten the message to shut down the rides until it passed.

Crestfallen, we headed back to Dan, who was trying to stay dry next to some sort of snack building and had let Chloe (now waddling with a smelly diaper) run barefoot in puddles to keep her happy.

"I heard the announcement," he said drily.

Again, we found ourselves staring in a melancholy fashion out at the dripping leaves.

"Maybe this day is supposed to be all about teaching our kids how to deal with disappointment gracefully," I said. Of course, first we would have to learn.

Dan decided to take the kids on one of those indoor motion rides with a screen, some kind of 3-D flight over European cities. I sat with Chloe near speakers blasting Irish music (the park was divided into different "countries" and we were most definitely smack-dab in the Emerald Isle). As she began to drift off to sleep, the sun came out again, full-force. The day appeared beautiful once more. Moments later I heard the announcement that the rides were opening again.

But Dan and the kids were still on the ride. Apparently everyone else in the park had had the same idea when the weather grew bad. I waited...and waited...and waited.

Forty minutes later when they emerged I accosted them in seconds. "Everything's open again! Let's get out there!"

We walked back to a fantastic water ride, the Pompei, I had done with the kids earlier. While Dan and the kids were in line, I saw the thunderheads growing.

No, no, no, I found myself silently praying. Don't do it. Don't you dare.

The sun disappeared. Dan and the kids were screaming down the Pompei's hill. They returned to me a few minutes later.

"We were the last people to get on the ride before they closed it again," Dan said.

The wind was picking up now as another remnant of the accursed Tropical Storm Ana began to move overhead. "Attention please," a voice said from a nearby speaker. "Due to approaching inclement weather, we will be temporarily closing many of our attractions..." This was punctuated by a robust rumble of thunder.

"Maaammmmaaa!" cried out Ethan, who is terrified of thunderstorms (not the thunder, mind you, the lightning). "We have to get out of here!"

People began streaming towards the exits as if we were in some sort of old Godzilla movie. I felt pulled along by the tide as Dan and I took split seconds to decide, yeah, we were done with this. Sayanora, Busch Gardens. The time was approximately 3:30pm.

A half-hour later we were seated in a Mexican restaurant, chomping on some really tasty chips and salsa. The sun had come back out. Despite The Weather Channel's predicted 100% chance of rain for the rest of the afternoon, no other showers or thunderstorms returned on what turned out to be a quite pleasant evening, in fact.

We could have gone back to the park. But somehow I have the feeling we would have managed to bring rain, wind, and storms with us.

And so we had another round of breathe in, breathe out. Let it go. We were all together. I hadn't had to cook dinner. The kids could swim in the hotel pool. It really was, in the end, all good.

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