This is not about tips for getting through the day at an amusement park; absolutely nothing went wrong. We walked the dogs, picked up lunch and got out the door at the prearranged time. The kids had their swimsuits, dry clothes, sunscreen and water bottles. The highway was clear, and there was no problem with the coupons given to us with the report cards in June. No tears were shed by anyone, and nothing led to a breakdown or a breakup. In other words, the day at the amusement park was as fun as one in a movie montage.
What makes our day at the park worth reflecting upon are the lessons I have learned about being a mom in a blended family. This is one of those situations that helps me understand why people keep gratitude journals. It is much easier to forget the times when things go right, while the negative tends to stick to the memory better. Here’s what I learned from our amusement park day:
1. It’s okay to let the kids be responsible for their own fun.
We don’t go to the amusement park often. Being that this trip might be our only visit to the park this summer, the pressure to ensure that everyone got to do exactly what they wanted could easily have gotten to me. In fact, when your time is limited with biological and stepchildren, the desire to please everyone can be frustrating, to say the least.
This time, however, I let go of that responsibility. I realized some time ago that if people cannot enjoy themselves in an environment that’s all about fun, they are probably choosing to not have fun. By that, I also mean that they may be so centered on their own desires that anything less will make them hopelessly dejected. If they feel that way, it’s okay, they’re kids. They will learn, eventually, that they are not the All-Powerful-Grand-Exalted-Masters-of-the-Universe. For now, I’m not trying to win Miss Congeniality. Trying to please everyone is like having five kids on one trampoline, and it’s not going to end well.
This was the first opportunity to put my philosophy into practice in the amusement park environment and, I must say, everyone had a blast and a half. It was okay to implement the philosophy that if they didn’t have fun, then too bad.
2. It’s acceptable to ask everyone to stick together.
We are big-time gamblers. I’m not talking about the slots. With four girls aged 11 to 15 years, we decided to leave our cell phones in the car and to keep everyone together. The girls had to come to a consensus as to which rides would be ridden, when we would eat our picnic lunch, and whether or not to reserve time for a show. As it turned out, there were no fights, and we arrived home with the same four children we had left with that morning. All of the girls were able to squeeze in most of what they really wanted to do, and they were gracious about compromising and understanding that it would not be possible to check off every item on everyone’s wish list in one day.
I can’t help but think that if we had been with only my spouse’s girls or my girls, the day might have proceeded less smoothly. Perhaps the fact that each girl had three others to consider, rather than one, gave altruism and empathy a fighting chance.
3. I have to listen to my middle-aged body.
I have not been able to ride thrill rides, swings or boats since my eldest was born. Something about having a baby changed my body chemistry, and what once produced laughter now produces nausea. What was thrilling is now just sickening.
There was no chance that I was going on any swinging boat or something called the Cyclone, but I did feel ready for some roller coaster action. What the hell, I can still manage elevators, right?
The motion did not produce the least bit of nausea. My neck, however, was violently jerked to the side during one of the coaster’s corkscrew twists, like an angry mule had just kicked me in the head. My partner, who is five years older than me, wrenched his back on the same ride. Here is the bottom line: We are too old, now, for roller coasters. Our bodies are not as young as we feel inside. There is no way that my mind is going to convince my neck that I am only 30 years old.
A visit to the amusement park for a family of six: $300. Chiropractic coverage: priceless.
4. Children are capable of expressing sincere gratitude.
Each of the girls said thank you several times throughout the day, for bringing them to the park, for the nice lunch and—again—for bringing them to the park. This, in itself, is not surprising, as these girls do this a lot. I love that about them. What was surprising was to hear them express how much fun they all had and that they were glad to have been able to do it together. They do not normally express this type of sentiment. It has taken a lot of time and effort, but I do think that the kids are now seeing our reconstituted family as a unit. Perhaps it’s a unit that gets broken into disjointed parts for varying periods of time, but it comes back together like a puzzle, with each of us essential to the whole.
5. My 15-year-old still wants to hold my hand.
There are not too many places where you can walk alongside a teen and chat without interruptions. I could take my daughters shopping, but the constant stepping into stores and looking through racks sidetracks us. At the amusement park, we were able to talk a lot between rides and, once in a while, I even felt a hand slide into mine. This was usually my 15-year-old. My stepdaughter also linked her arm with mine, a gesture that revealed she is becoming more comfortable with me.
My children may not do this stuff all the time, like they did 10 years ago, but I’ll take what they offer. It’s these little tidbits, I think, that will keep me going through those terrifying teens, until one of them, perhaps 15 years down the road, gives me another little hand to hold.
The day at the amusement park may not have been anything out of the ordinary, but I’m grateful for the day we had. It served as a building block that, along with many others, will help to solidify this blended family.