31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Never Too Old To Be A Kid

Single with Children: Teens not as grown up as they think

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/13/03

As I write this column, I'm in a hotel room a couple of miles from Disney World. When I asked my son where he might like to go for a few days vacation before the school year started, I offered a couple of suggestions such as the Cayman Islands, maybe a Six Flags park or perhaps a three- or four-day cruise. It never entered my mind that his choice would be Disney World.

Disney World? We lived in Florida a few years when he was in elementary school and made quite a few trips to the land of Mickey Mouse. Clearly, he had forgotten how impossibly hot it is in Orlando in August! Or that a 90-minute wait was not uncommon for a ride like "Space Mountain" or "Splash Mountain." I mentioned these things, but he was determined in his choice.

So here I sit after a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Naturally, he didn't want to hang with his mother the entire time, so I let him pick one of his good buddies to go with us. Fortunately for both of us, he picked one with impeccable manners, a quiet, kind demeanor and who had never been to Orlando.

We kept in contact via cell phone. He and his friend took the first shuttle to the park and were there when the gates opened at 9 a.m. After the long drive, there was no way I was going to face the heat, humidity and huge crowds visiting the house that Mickey built. I slept until around 10 a.m., when Justin called me for something like the fourth time wondering, "when are you going to get here?"

The park was much as I remembered from my last trip with Katie and Justin back in August 1997. But somehow, many things had changed. Perhaps not so much the park. I think the real differences involved the changes we had experienced in the years since our last visit. We have both grown up quite a lot. Justin in age, maturity and height. The changes in me are a little more subtle.

During the times he was off waiting in lines, I watched people. I saw people pushing strollers with exhausted and overstimulated youngsters more than a little ready for a nap in a cool place. I heard shrieks when a child was denied "just one more time" on some of the rides. As the day wore on, I watched families wear out. I couldn't help but remember I'd been in all of those situations many times. Strangest of all is that I missed those times.

When you're going through many parenting situations - the ones that make you swear you're within minutes of losing your sanity - you can't help but look forward to the time when those screaming, demanding kids are more independent and don't require every second of your attention. Today, as I watched folks deal with the stuff that inevitably involves supervising young children through a huge theme park, I felt so very nostalgic that at times I felt my eyes filling with tears. A few years ago, that was my former husband and me chasing our two kids around. Today, Justin and I were tethered not by a stroller or a small hand inside my own, but by the magic of a cellular phone.

We hooked up for a real sit-down dinner at one of the park's restaurants that also includes a visit with the characters. It was nice to hear about my son and his friend's experiences today, and it was refreshing to be out of the Florida heat for an hour. But the best part for me was when Minnie, Pluto and various other characters made their rounds at our table and, miraculously, Justin and Drew didn't feel themselves too grown-up to have their photographs made.

It was then that I realized why Justin had chosen Mickey Mouse over snorkeling with the stingrays in Grand Cayman. Maybe he realized, just as I came to understand, that these special moments are becoming so rare and precious that we both needed to revisit them just a few more times. I feel blessed that we were able to create some new ones today.

I also learned that no matter how much your teenager may protest that he or she is "all grown up," such words are not to be taken at face value. One need not visit a theme park to realize that whether one is 16 or (gulp) 43, it's absolutely OK to let the child inside of each of us step out for some time to play. You don't have to be any where close to Orlando or an overgrown mouse to make a lasting memory with your child.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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