We took the sprouts to Six Flags last night, and it opened up our eyes (as doing things with your kids will often do) to some things that you just don’t notice or even think about when you don’t have kids.
Namely, “family” events. Before you have kids, these things might as well be taking place on the moon, and you can avoid them just as easily. In short, if you see a bouncy house, a grown person in costume, or a brightly colored clutch of balloons, steer yourself in the opposite direction, and you’ll be fine. But when you do have kids, these are things you have to do, somehow. There’s a vague impression that lives at the base of your skull that you’re not a “good parent” if you don’t take your kids to these things. Unfortunately, they usually also mean leaning into the worst things about having kids. The peer pressure of other kids acting crazy, which inspires your kids to act crazy. The hyperprevalence of sugary snacks and drinks, for which your kids will beg you incessantly. The proliferation of oblivious parents, obliviously ignoring the obliviously a-hole-ish behavior of their oblivious kids.
But because you’re dumb, you take them.
And it sinks in — again — that your life has changed irrevocably, and will never again be what it once was.
Because once upon a time, you were young and adventure-seeking, and you went to amusement parks for the thrill rides: the more the better. Your stomach was made of iron: you could easily take down a 64-oz full-sugar soda, a double cheeseburger and fries, and a funnel cake, then ride the most wickedly devised gravity-defying stomach turning rides and never blink an eye. There was a “kids section” in the park, and you knew its location only so that you could more effectively avoid it.
These days, you know the kids section because it’s the only area of the park that concerns you. You pack your own snacks because you know that a whiff of funnel cake after riding even the tame little teacups will leave you queasy and sweaty. And you walk right past the thrill rides with a suppressed sigh because you won’t be riding them today, even if you thought you could handle them, which you probably can’t anymore.
So it’s bad enough going to the park with sprouts in the first place. But it’s worse on the “family days” (here in Atlanta, it’s Six Flags’ Holidays in the Park). Because 90% of the traffic in the park is poor, run-down, exhausted and raccoon-eyed moms and dads and their squalling, snot-faced brood.
The kid-centric drains on your wallet are even more pronounced, prevalent, and shameless. The kids’ area is lousy with “games” that cost a ridiculous amount of money for your kid to win a bit of candy or a cheap stuffed toy. Everywhere around the park are carts selling pretzels and popcorn and hot chocolate. And around every corner is a festive elf or a costumed cartoon character just crying out for a photo-op with your bundles of joy — which means people are clogging up all the major thoroughfares and creating foot-traffic jams, the worst kind.
But worst of all is making your bee-line past the thrill rides — most of which have waits of less than five minutes, if they have a wait time at all! — to the kids area with its crappy slate of rides, for which you’ll be waiting twenty minutes a pop, because everybody who is here tonight is here for this.
The part of your life where you could run amok, ride everything in the park, and go home without making a bathroom stop halfway (because the four-year-old somehow never needs to go when you’re walking past a restroom, but damned if he doesn’t suddenly start doing the dance when you’re about to get on the crappy kid coaster)? That’s over.
Say goodbye to fun at the amusement park.*
You’re parents at the park, now.
Abandon all hope.
*Actually, Holidays at the Park is pretty sweet. I just hate everything.