Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

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Lookout Dollywood!

I am lucky to have a family who shares at least one of my passions: theme 20171002_121905parks. Since I can remember, I have LOVED the thrill of the rollercoaster. ANY rollercoaster.  Along with that, I have a fondness for amusement parks and theme parks (there is a difference.)  I remember the old Ocean View Amusement park in Norfolk, Virginia. I grew up going to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. I recall going to a now forgotten theme park called Storybook Land, though there were no rollercoasters there, much to my dismay.  Along the way, I married and had a child…Chase. Chase shares my love of the thrill ride and, as he grew, we began to venture outside of our confines and went to places we had not gone…Carowinds in Charlotte, NC and Six Flags America in Maryland.  There were small amusement parks in or near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Included in them is the now defunct Hard Rock Park.

When I remarried, I gained another enthusiast.  Actually, I gained two…her son also likes the thrill ride.  And, now, we have a four year old who also loves the parks, but…his love of thrill rides has yet to develop. I am sure it will, though. 

Over the last couple of years, Chase and I have gone to parks in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  One park, though, to our west, had remained elusive: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

An opportunity arose, recently, that would bring us to within a 45 minute drive of that park, so…we spent a day at Dollywood, though, ironically, Chase was not able to be with us.  We did, however, have a great time there.  We rode all but one of the rollercoasters and the kids did many of the ‘flat’, non coaster rides.

The kids LOVED it.

Which is both interesting and amazing. 

See, one of the kids, Preston, is autistic and the four year old has sensory issues.  While Xander eschews the rollercoasters, he loved the spinning rides. Interesting as he hates wind in his face. With the associated noise, light, crowd and wind, the amusement parks can be overwhelming. Even for neurotypical people, parks can be a bit too much.  Neither child had a significant problem, though, by the end of the day, they were done.

Preston rode several rollercoasters, each of which present sensory issues, yet, he rode them like a boss.  I think that without certain influences and the lack of a real crowd at the park, he was able to  soldier on and not let it get to him.

The key was the lack of a crowd.  Preston is easily distract and, thus, without the crowd, he focused on having fun.  Likewise, Xander was able  to cope as he, too, had few influences.20171003_123154

The long drive back to the Richmond area was a real challenge as we picked up a Dachsund puppy-the real point to the trip-who was worse than either child. He is adorable, so all is forgiven. The kids? Awesome.

Aside from Chase not being with us, it was a fantastic trip.

Seeing Dolly would have been the icing on the cake.

Maybe next time.

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Parenting is tough

I have been a parent for twenty years. In all of those years, I have experienced a few times when it really, truly sucked.  The first time, Chase was in the hospital because he was not breathing well.  All kinds of scary words were bandied about by the doctors. Ultimately, is was an asthma attack, and he was fine. It was, up to that point, the most scared I ever felt. 

The second time, I had to tell Chase he was going to lose his mother.  That was an awful day and one I do not wish on any one. Watching your mate of nearly twenty years die is bad enough, telling your twelve year old is even worse.

While the third time isn’t quite the same, it was equally painful. That was the day Chase moved out and on his own.  While Preston and Xander still live us, and will for a few more years, having my first born move out was painful.  I never really thought it would be quite that bad, but, it was.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of him and am happy he can survive on his own. He is doing quite well. 

Even though he is a fine, 20 year old young man, Chase is still my little boy, and always will be.  He has been a rock for myself, indeed, our whole family.  We did quite a bit together, went to a NASCAR race (he hates them, that’s his biggest flaw), been on numerous trips together and, best of all, he shares my love of thrill rides and amusement parks. 

That love of amusement parks, the thrill rides and games have served as a bonding mechanism.  We can have fun doing other things, but nothing has compared to the trips we have taken to amusement parks.

The last two years we have made the trip from Richmond to Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina just to ride rollercoasters.  But, honestly, it wasn’t so much the destinations, for me, but the journey getting there.  We talked, shared things we had not shared in the past and just enjoyed the drives. 

Recently, I went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with my family.  We all went…my wife, in-laws, Xander and Preston.  Chase, however, was unable to go.  This was the first time I went to a new to us park without him.  While I had aa great time with my family, there was something missing.  Seeing the joy and sense of wonder in Preston and Xander was awesome and reminded me of the same thing I saw in Chase–and still do–when he was a child.  The trip, though, just wasn’t the same.  And, that is something I need to get used to…going places without him.  He has his own life and will be doing things without us.  He still wants to do things with me, and that is just awesome. I will cherish those time as much as I do all of the years worth up to now. And, I have two more children to do so with, and that, too, is awesome.

I guess I should be happy with all of the memories, but, I am a selfish son of a bitch and don’t want to let go.  But, as with everything, I guess I have to…so, I guess that is the fourth time.

Man, this growing up thing is hard.

We finally made ‘the trip’…to Cedar Point

WP_20160824_17_37_05_ProMy oldest son, Chase, is a theme park junkie.  He always has been.  Like myself. Like my father. It was prevalent on his mother’s side as well. She loved them, so did her father.  For the first few years of Chase’s life, we only went to Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, Virginia.  When he got old enough to start riding the kiddie rides, we began getting season passes to Kings Dominion, a theme park just north of Richmond, Virginia.  Chase always had a fascination with rollercoasters, playing the game ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’ on our computer. It was an impetus behind his desire to learn to read.

Once he actually rode one, though, he became obsessed with the rollercoaster. His first one was the Barnstormer, 4EC3E5D0-4C3E-47C8-9BA0-B64E95AB6678 (1)which was—oddly enough—at Disney World in Florida. From that point on…and once he could read…he started learning all he could about the various rollercoasters in Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens.  Riding each one with him, as was able to ride them, was such a thrill.  Not only for the ride itself, but seeing his reaction.  The sheer joy he got from riding them.  The sense of accomplishment when he could, finally, ride that ‘big boy’ coaster or the one that had tallest inversion or this or that.  It was just as much fun for me seeing his reaction as it was for him to ride them.

Indeed, when he was able to ride the Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion, you could not smack that smile from his face.  See, this thing was a launch coaster, went straight up and straight down. The whole ride was done in just seconds. It looked menacing.  His sense of accomplishment was off the charts.  This particular rollercoaster, though, did not become a favorite. The next time he rode it, it gave him a really bad headache.  I felt horrible for that.  The rollercoaster was dismantled shortly after that anyway. But, that first ride…I don’t think I have ever seen that much enthusiasm, joy and wonder from him.  It was awesome.   He hasn’t been that way since. Oh, sure, there were times where he came close, but nothing has really matched that … until recently.

WP_20160824_18_33_30_ProBefore I share that, though, lets continue with his journey into rollercoaster enthusiasm excess.

Every vacation we had was planned around some kind of amusement or theme park trip.  Be it to the great land of of Orlando, Myrtle Beach South Carolina, or where ever, there was an amusement park close by.  We hit parks like Disney World, Carowinds in Charlotte, the two in Virginia, Six Flags America, small ones like Family Kingdom, the Pavillion and Hard Rock Park (all in Myrtle Beach) and Trimpers and Jolly Roger in Ocean City, Maryland.  Recently, we made it to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania, but that was just a day trip. There was one park, though, that remained elusive.

All through his young life, Chase would read all he could and watch all he could about rollercoasters.  He read about the tallest, the fastest, the longest, etc.  One park kept showing up with all of these wonderful machines:  Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. 

He desperately wanted to go.  For years, my late wife and I had planned to take Chase.  We even got as far, about ten years ago, as reserving a room near Sandusky.  Unfortunately, life kept getting in the way and we never made that trip.

In 2010, Chase’s mom passed away.  Early that year, before she became ill, we had talked about going in 2011.  As her health declined, so did our plans, once again. I took Chase and his cousin on a sort of rollercoaster ‘tour’ that summer, but Sandusky wasn’t in the cards.

Two years ago, Chase got his drivers license and decided to go to work.  He fulfilled one of his lifetime dreams and worked as a ‘scare actor’ at Kings Dominion.  He is really good at it too and is doing it again for the third year.  WP_20160824_18_06_23_Pro

Chase and I had talked about going to Sandusky last year, but, as was always the case, it just did not work out.  But, as he always has, Chase did something I never expected.

He gave me one of the best Christmas presents ever:  a rollercoaster tour that was to include Sandusky.  We started out by going to Carowinds, a place special to us both for reason I won’t go into now.  Sentiment aside, it really is a nice park and, if you get there, ride the Fury 325…one of the best rollercoasters ever.

As summer went on, we kept hitting this snag or that and our trips were delayed or altered quite a bit. Our trip to Dorney Park was to be a two day trip, but turned out to be a day trip…quite a drive to ride a handful of coasters, but the time we spent in the car was well worth it.

So, getting back to the sense of awe and joy he had with the Hypersonic…well, he showed it once more when we actually pulled into the parking lot.  I felt it too.  After about twelve years of trying, we finally made it. Walking through that turnstile, seeing the old Carousel and, looking to our left, the bus used for the Hallow weekends and seeing the Raptor…well, seeing the look on his face…was priceless. Even at 19, that sense of wonder shone through his very adult face.  My eight year old boy from 2005 was with me once more.  We were both quite, walking around, taking it in.  The park was not busy and we were able to ride one of the coaster he had only dreamt of riding just a few years ago…the Raptor. 

The next day, we spent walking around, riding the coasters, taking photos (that was me) and not believing we were actually there. Fortunately, the park was not busy and we were able to walk on to most of the coasters.  Millenium Force has to be one of the smoothest rides ever. Exciting, fast, TALL…this was THE coaster he wanted to ride. Of all the coasters anywhere, this was the one he had talked about the most, since he had first seen an on ride video.  Getting to ride it, for the first time with him, that was special.

We spent that day, not really saying much, but bonding and have a great time.  The place is massive and we have to go again. But, any other visit there will not be the same or as special as this one.  Sure, it will be great to have my other two sons and my wife with me (I was lucky to have another wife who also loves the parks, she’s pretty awesome) but this visit, well…after so much anticipation…well, it was just special.

WP_20160826_12_38_25_ProPerhaps the most ironic thing was that it ended up with Chase taking ME instead of me taking him.  And that’s pretty damn cool.

The Road Trip, part 1

WP_20160416_09_50_39_Raw_LIAs a fifty year old father of three boys, I think I have a pretty good understanding of this dad thing.  My first son is now 18 years old.  My middle son is 8 and my youngest is now 3.  That’s a big range in ages and it makes me, for the most part, young.  Oh, my body says otherwise, but, mentally, I feel pretty young.  Maybe it is all of the cartoon watching or the playing with toys designed for  five year old or a combination of all of that. Whatever it is, I like it. I get to play with toys and no one thinks it is odd. I can watch Spongebob Squarepants and laugh at it.  Yeah, I can do all of that and it’s fine.

Perhaps the best thing is just spending time with them, collectively and individually.  So, it was a special occasion when I got to take a road trip with my 18 year old, go to an amusement park three hundred miles from home to ride one of the tallest rollercoasters in the country and then go back home the next day.  Long drive, yes, worth it? Oh yeah.

See, this was something that we had planned to do for years, not necessarily to this particular park, but the road trip and amusement park visit was.  So, now, we are going to take a summer long rollercoaster trip.  Not all at once, but, as time allows. We made the first leg, to wonderful Carowinds theme park in Charlotte, North Carolina.

WP_20160416_12_03_56_Moment(2)We started talking about doing this shortly after his mother passed away.  We did an abbreviated trip then, going to Carowinds, our two parks in Virginia, a nasty Six Flags park, just north of DC and to Ocean City, Maryland (a wonderful little beach town.)  But, we had company then, his cousin went along. Now, though, it is just us.

The drive down to Charlotte from Richmond was long but, fortunately, uneventful…no breakdowns, tickets, sickness, etc.  We talked.  We talked a lot.  Told stories, shared political views, talked about previous trips and vacation, school and more.  I had a great time.

WP_20160416_10_00_42_Raw_LIWhile we planned to stay the weekend, we cut it short by a day.  He wasn’t feeling well and we decided to come home early. That was fine. We did all we had wanted to do in the park anyway…rode the Intimidator, a rollercoaster named and themed after the race car legend, Dale Earnhardt.  We road Flightdeck, a jet fighter themed coasted originally themed for the movie ‘Top Gun’.  It was fast…and gave me a headache.  But, the ultimate thrill there…the 325 foot tall, 6600 ft long tracked behemoth called Fury 325.  It was fast, tall and so smooth. Not jerky and did not do anything more than make me a tad queezy as I had eaten very greasy pizza beforehand. 

As awesome as the coasters were, however, nothing was more awesome than just spending time with my son.  He was upset over having to leave early. I told him it was fine.  As I told him, it wasn’t the destination, it was the journey.  And an awesome journey it was.  I am looking forward to the next trip.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg…not putting its breast foot forward (here’s a hint…they need women in charge)

One of the benefits of being a Dad is that you are not the Mama. In my case, I don’t breast feed my 12 week old son. For me, that’s a bonus.  For my wife, however, it is both a blessing and a curse. However, before I go on, let me say that is a beautiful thing to witness: that closeness of mother and child. A symbiotic relationship that, until recently, I never fully appreciated.

My late wife was unable to breast feed and it always angered me the attitude that many took toward her for not doing so.

Fast forward fifteen years and my current wife is breast feeding our infant. I totally get why mother’s want to do so: that is a very strong bond and something that is just wonderful to witness. Overall, it’s such a natural and lovely thing…until you go out.

While April has yet to encounter any prejudice or been told to stop, you can see how uncomfortable and just how ill-equipped many places are to handle such things. Places that purport to be family and child friendly. Like a theme park. Busch Gardens Williamsburg, to be specific.

I had recalled seeing several ‘nursing stations’ in the past, but never paid much attention to them. Well, we recently went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg-it is, after all, our favorite amusement/theme park. Big, beautiful, good food and very family friendly.

Except for the nursing stations. 

Elmo land, Sesame Woods or what ever they call the newest kids section is one area where, one would think, there would be nice, accommodating nursing areas. Wrong. They have ONE, little, tiny room with a stool.That’s it. If there’s more than one child who needs feeding, well…mom just has to whip it out and let the child eat.

And that is precisely what happened. 

April was lucky and got the room.  I  am standing outside, waiting. This tall, somewhat thin woman walks up with her infant. Knocks, realizes the room is occupied and turns around and sits on the carrier that she was pushing her child in. Next thing I know, the child is feeding. The woman is sitting there, just smiling and feeding her kid. She did it so fast, I did not realize what she had done.  The woman obviously knew how to discreetly feed her kid. Thing is, she should not have had to do that. (As it turns out, she was a lactation specialist…she and April spoke for a few minutes.)

Now, the other theme park in the Richmond area, Kings Dominion-which, really, is second rate to Busch Gardens-has a really nice BUILDING devoted to the little ones with nearly half of the building devoted to breast feeding Mom’s. It is a decently sized building. A large play area, staffed desk, diaper changing areas, microwave and bottle warmers are available and…five rooms to breast feed. Comfy chairs too.  The difference in the parks, I’m sure, is that there were likely women involved in the Kings Dominion area and men for Busch Gardens. (In fact, we did speak with an employee who suggested that it was, in fact, all men who were in charge.) It is almost enough to me ashamed to be a dude.

However, at least BGW does have them. Most public places do not.  Now, I’m not advocating a law that would require it, however I would think that many business with the room would at least have a small area where a Mom could take care of such things and not make others uncomfortable.

And, I have to wonder, what’s the uncomfortable business about anyway? Most woman can ‘whip it out’ in such a manner that you: don’t see anything and baby just looks like it is using a pacifier (which, I suppose, a nipple is anyway.) I can’t believe I ever worried about it or felt uncomfortable.

Once in awhile, someone will get it and actually talk about it. I recall, recently, an older waitress noticed and just started talking to April about it. It was like it was something that happened all of the time (I don’t think it is in that particular place) and it was as if she knew my wife for years. That was the first time they ever saw each other. 

Males are the worst at hiding it. Some will act like nothing is going on and make sure they direct their attention at me while others will discreetly stare or, at least, appear to look my wife in the eye. I know they are angling for a glimpse…horn dogs.

I have to admit…when she first started, I was very aware and a little embarrassed. I got over it quickly. I don’t care where she feeds Xander now.  It is a natural and wonderful thing.  People just need to get over it.

Seriously.

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