I am really glad that I was never one of those people who said that I hoped I never sounded like my parents, because dammit, I sound more and more like them every single day of my life.
My husband found a great deal on season passes for a theme park in our area, so he snatched them up so that this summer we can head there anytime we’re bored.
Believe me when I say that taking my kids to a theme park in the 100-degree, sweltering-ass weather “anytime we’re bored” is me taking one for the team. Because except for my eating habits, I am not a kid at heart.
“Get in the bouncy house, Shay!” an adult hosting a kid’s birthday party will giggle, hair flying behind her as she jumps higher and higher, unwittingly toppling over all the 3-year-olds in her way. “It’s soooooo fun!”
Um, no it’s not. It’s not fun. It stopped being fun when I was 10 years old.
And roller coasters? Please. Give me a cup of coffee, a couch, and a good book, and I’m set for days.
The bonus of season passes, though, is that we don’t have to stay all day. I grew up with 4 other siblings, and with such a big family, Mom and Dad couldn’t afford a weeklong beach vacation. Instead, our annual family vacation was an all-day trip to the theme park that was about two hours away.
Like I said, I hate that kind of shit now, but back then, I loved it. We all did. My brothers and sisters and I looked forward to it all year.
We knew the rules: NO BUYING ANYTHING. There were no funnel cakes, no huge turkey legs, no sodas, (and don’t you DARE ask for a picture keychain)—and that was okay with us. Because part of the fun was meeting at the front entrance at a certain time so that we could head to the station wagon’s hatchback, where a cooler full of pre-purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken awaited for us to eat before going back to the excitement of riding rides for the rest of the day and into the night.
The drawback of it being our one and only family trip was that Mom and Dad wanted to make the most of it, squeezing every single bit of fun they could into those days.
“Oh, no, Dad, it’s fine,” I would say when night had fallen and my legs ached from walking around and standing in line for 12 hours. “I don’t want to ride The Scrambler again.”
“COME ON, Shay,” he’d say, checking his watch even as the employees were scooting us toward the front entrance. “I synched my watch to official theme park time the moment we entered the gates. They don’t close for another 30 seconds; we have time for one more ride!”
I swear there was a crazed Chevy Chase Wally World look in his eye, so, with sighs as my dad gestured wildly to his watch, the employees would always let us ride that last ride.
I would look longingly toward the park’s exit as the worker in charge tugged the buckle on my seat to ensure that it was latched properly, and I might catch his or her eye. If it was a nice employee, I might receive a look of sympathy and a pat on the shoulder as he or she watched a single tear slip from my exhausted eye and roll down my cheek.
And then we were off.
Despite the physical and mental exhaustion of those days, thought, I loved them. And I imagine my boys feel the same way when we walk into the park—except that, because of the affordability of the season passes since my husband and I only decided to have two children as opposed to a litter of five, we can simply leave when we’re tired and then come back next weekend if we want.
I was telling my 1st grader all of this one day last year as we walked into the theme park. “You know, buddy,” I said, “I hope you realize how lucky you are to get to go on so many vacations and do so many fun things like this all the time. When I was little, Papa and Grandma had so many kids that we only got to go on one vacation a year—and it was to a theme park like this one.”
I shit you not, my son’s little lips started quivering and tears welled up in his eyes as he jumped into my arms and gave me a big hug. I felt his lips brush my ear as he squeezed me tightly and murmured, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Mom.”
He was totally serious, and dear God, I could not stop laughing.
I never was very good at imparting lessons, peeps. I think that, like most of my bad qualities, I get it from my mom. I remember when she, too, was trying to explain to my older sister and I how very spoiled we were and how blessed we should feel.
“You guys always get piles and piles of presents from Santa Claus for Christmas. You know what I got once?” Here, she took a moment to look us both in the eye so that we understood the gravity of the situation. “I got a box of turtles and a magazine because I was only allowed two presents that year,” she finished, eyebrows raised emphatically to ensure that she’d made her point.
I remember mirroring her expression right back at her, because my 6-year-old self felt the need to teach her a lesson, too. “Well, maybe that’s because you were bad,” I pointed out. “Do you think that’s why Santa doesn’t bring you anything now, either?”
And then my 8-year-old sister: “I don’t know…a box of turtles sounds kind of fun…”
My eyes lit up. “Yeah! A box of turtles—wow! Were they snapping turtles or were they nice?”
My mom was frustrated, although my older sister and I didn’t understand why. “They weren’t real turtles—" she started, but my sister, still warming to the idea, cut her off.
“How many turtles were in the box?” she asked. “It might be fun to teach them to turtle race…or cage fight.” My sister shrugged. “Or, maybe we could paint their shells. We could do some really cool designs…”
Amidst our excited chatter, my mom tried to cut in again. “They weren’t real—they were these chocolate and caramel candies called turtles—"
My sister and I hadn’t heard a word Mom had said; we had latched onto the painting idea and were discussing it. “Although if you didn’t have a paint set,” my sister said, “that would require another gift, which would exceed the 2-gift limit set by Santa because you were bad that year…”
“It wasn’t set by Santa—" my mom tried.
“—So you might not be able to paint them, but still, they’d be fun pets,” I said, I turning to my mom. “Do you think Santa will bring us a box of turtles for Christmas?” I asked as I jumped up and down excitedly.
By this point, I swear my mom was close to tears at the failed lesson. “Just—never mind. You guys are spoiled brats. That’s all I was trying to say.”
My older sister and I looked at each other, shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads in that She’s crazy kind of look that every sister has shared with another sister at least one time in reference to their mother.
We understood the lesson as we got older. We had no choice; our mom told us the goddamned box of turtles and magazine story EVERY SINGLE YEAR in her attempt to make sure we were not the spoiled little assholes she was afraid we would become due to the huge pile of Christmas presents under the tree as a result of her shopping addiction.
We got the message, alright. I still have nightmares about turtles and Cosmo magazine.
It may have seemed like a small Christmas present to my mom at the time, but trust me: It’s the motherfcking gift that keeps on giving—whether you want it or not.
What was the question again?