Friday, June 28, 2013


Greg has had his heart set on an extended weekend vacation with Theo for a while now. Our date nights and weekends away from the kiddo seem few and far between, but compared to some, we do get away from parenthood fairly often. Whenever we planned another bit of babysitting we would kick around the concept of a family stay at a hotel somewhere, sometime in the future.

I have to say it wasn't at the top of my to-do list. I know I'm not awful at planning or even coping in the moment when things go awry, it's just the prior anxiety and worry that can make me less than enthusiastic. Having a three-year-old can be like flipping a coin every time you encounter new stimuli. Will he be ok with the hotel? Will he drink enough fluids on the hot days? Will he want to participate in anything, at all, never mind actually enjoying things? This kind of chaotic lifestyle makes me a wreck. It's bad enough when it's part of our predictable routine, but when everything is new, and under the pressure of having fun while the day's exhausting just contemplating it.

We had let our Disneyland passes expire back in February because Theo had stopped enjoying the place. He had always been picky about rides, but even that short list shrank down to near nothing. Even rides he enjoyed before became a source of fear for him, and just going to the park became a full day of attempted coercion and tears.

A month ago I took Theo to the LA Natural History Museum and the Science and Industry Museum with family. Greg couldn't go as it was a weekday. Theo spent about 10 minutes completely enthralled in the amazing dinosaur exhibit, then spent the rest of the time whining and begging to go home. There were only a few other spots of interest throughout our day there - Shuttle Endeavor merited another 10 minutes - but 90% of the day was temper management.

So when Greg wanted to do four days in San Diego to hit the major attractions I was not super thrilled. We planned it way in advance and were hoping he would be up to the task by the time it rolled around. Getting closer to the date we saw some good signs from Theo, doing things he had been frightened of for the longest time - he rode the train at the mall, he stood on an escalator instead of being carried, he sat on a big kid swing and allowed himself to be pushed. I felt confident going in that we had a much better shot at a good time now than we did back in February.

I don't remember how early on in the plan we decided that bringing Greg's sister (and by extension, Theo's cousin Sadie) along, but we knew it was a good idea to make this an event to remember. Theo and Sadie get along very well, often keeping each other occupied and on track. Having other adults to lean on sounded good, and I think bringing others in can help alleviate the friction of being together constantly.

The original plan included the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park), and Sea World. After more consideration we decided to get Legoland in as well. Legoland is aimed at very young children. It won't be long before my niece grows out of their offerings, and we figured it might work well for Theo, too.

We stayed at a Comfort Inn which offered attached rooms including separate, closed door rooms for the kids - each with their own bunk bed! The kids were thrilled at the novelty and we were thrilled that they could get to bed while we stayed up a little longer.

On to the parks!

Legoland was a HUGE hit with Theo. We realized it was a good choice from the moment we drove into the parking lot and Theo started pointing out all the statues and signage. "It's made of Legos!" he said over and over, which lasted the whole day.

He was into everything we did. A slow "safari" with Lego animals; a pedal car on a rail high above the ground; a "driving school" which is a Lego version of Power Wheels. No track, all by himself, he's never used one before, now you're driving for real, would he do it?

He did, and loved it, but not as much as he loved the pirate themed Splash Battle.

He got pretty wet on this and was nothing but smiles.

This horsey ride was a biggie which went all by itself, trotting up and down, on a long rail far from us and momentarily out of sight. It also had an age 4 requirement which required a small falsehood (he's 3 and a half and I made a judgement call).

In all of these cases he looked at the rides, in action, and said "I want to do that." Then he did them. No cold feet, no hesitation, and nothing but joy during and after. We have a term for days like this: "Baby Upgrade!"

He chased the vehicles rolling around Miniland's tiny cities, and even had some appreciation for the Star Wars exhibits. The big boat ride was a predictably big hit. We had a near-perfect day and a smooth hotel check in and easy bedtime.

It was all too much to believe. Yes, it was hot, some lines were long, and there were the usual squabbles over the usual things. But the newness of the place and the challenge of the rides came effortlessly and his enjoyment was real, not forced. He was up for this adventure as much as we were, with no trace of his current stubbornness and rebellion.

To be continued.

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