I’m sitting here at my computer desk in Fenton, MI, and as I sit here looking back on the last seven hours of one of those days where working really feels like working (a lot of particularly tedious technical writing and some wrangling of Sage and Mathematica), it’s almost hard to believe that, exactly one week ago, I was riding Thunder Canyon for the seventh or eighth time with my daughter, dripping with icy water and mentally going over the symptoms of mild, moderate, and severe hypothermia.
(Note: Though I am posting this entry at about midnight, I actually wrote this post at 3 pm. Please, nobody get the idea that I was sitting with my 8-year old in icy water in the middle of the night, after the park was already closed.)
It was a special father-daughter trip, no brothers allowed, to celebrate the end of first grade. Now that she has a two-year-old brother and a two-month-old brother (and that ticks over to three months in two days), my daughter and oldest child doesn’t get as much attention as she used to, and her life is, like her parents’, to some extent ruled by the whims of an infant and a toddler. We wanted the beginning of her summer to be memorable and fun and all about her. A whole day of just the two of us at America’s Roller Coast, a place I visited more or less yearly in my own childhood but she had never visited, seemed like “just the ticket”, as I might say if, instead of blogging this at you, I were sipping brandy and wearing a smoking jacket while discussing the trip with you in your parlour.
So the night before, we told her to pack up her bag for a trip with dad and my wife helped her pick out an outfit and a spare, etc. We were gone by 6:15.
Digression that “just doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t matter”: In my own childhood, the official start-of-summer commemoration was the ceremonial watching of Meatballs with Bill Murray, especially for my sister. Chants of “it just doesn’t matter”, or references to “Wudy the Wabbit” are pretty much guaranteed to be well-received in my family. I did suggest to my daughter that she could have a tradition-movie like that, tried to explain how much her favorite aunt had enjoyed doing so. She smiled and said she wanted to, but mostly she looked puzzled. I guess, with the amount of television and movies she watches on a daily basis, the idea of getting excited by a movie every year has hard to make sense of.
I beat all the heavy traffic, and we got to Cedar Point before they officially opened. There is a gate that opens at the official start time, and by the time it opens there are dozens and dozens of rows of people pressed against the gate. We were in the first row, right against the gate. I could tell that my daughter felt like one of the cool kids, getting to be one of the very first in. When the gate opened, we headed to the back of the park and worked our way forward (that’s the trick, friends). We started with the Maverick, an excellent ride that I’d never been on, because my daughter said she was brave and tough and all. Apparently that drained all the fight from her, though, because after that she only wanted kiddie rides and the Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl, Matterhorn type things. Nothing with a roller coaster track, nothing with screaming, nothing with upside-down.
You might think that that would ruin a day at Cedar Point, but it worked out just fine. There are more kiddie activities than I remember from my youth. She made many friends at Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy. We saw an amusing ice skating show. She indulged my love of the paddleboat excursion. And we spent hours at the water rides. We bought ice cream and french fries and all the must-eats, and I had brought a bag full of sandwiches and tacos and snacks of all kinds.
We had more time to talk, and she had more interest in talking, than had been the case for a very, very long time.
Digression that makes mouths happy: When my family went to Cedar Point each summer, my mom would always bring a giant bag with all the sunscreen and bug spray and waiting-in-line candy ‘n snacks. You may never have thought about this, but you have to make candy selections with a certain amount of care when you’re packing for a full day of standing around in the hot sun. Melting is a problem. The preferred candy: Twizzlers. Sometimes Werther’s, sometimes other things, but always Twizzlers. As I planned out the trip in my mind, the first thing I knew for sure is that I would be packing Twizzlers. To this day, that weird waxy strawberry flavor just tastes like ride queues, summer, and childhood.
Lately I’ve been feeling unstuck in time. Not the full-on Billy Pilgrim, and no Tralfamadorians, but unstuck in my mind. I’m 30. I can’t process how quickly my children are growing up. Having a new baby boy puts in sharp relief how much my toddler boy has grown, but also makes me feel as though it were just last week he were a baby. More and more often I’m dreaming that I’m talking to my children, all grown up. My daughter is 8, but sometimes she acts older, sometimes much younger. Under those circumstances, it was questionable planning to visit a place where I have so many childhood memories. I spent a lot of the day flashing back and forth between what was happening and memories of the same places when I was a kid. Back before it was Peanuts. Back when it was Berenstain Bears.
Digression that never will kick that football: I was not expecting my daughter to be so enamored with the Peanuts stuff. I had no idea that she knew the characters. I was taken even more by surprise by how much of a hold Peanuts still has over me. I read it as a child, of course (who didn’t?), and hadn’t really thought about it for quite a while, so I didn’t know how deeply embedded in my psyche those characters were. The power is Schulz’s simplicity, the understatedness. Who can’t relate to lovable loser Charlie Brown? Who doesn’t have a Lucy and a Linus in their life? And, when you take one of life’s twists and turns a little too fast, is there anything better to say than “Good grief!”?
Meta-digression. Speaking of the passage of time and things that are timeless, speaking of things that put in sharp relief that I am getting older, speaking of all-time wonderful comic strips. have you seen Hobbes and Bacon on Pants are Overrated? The best commentary I’ve read is here, by Robert Krulwich. Let me just say that they are toying with powerful forces.
My daughter is typically in bed well before 10 pm, so it was far from a foregone conclusion that we’d be able to stay the whole day. But she got her second wind, and then a third and a fourth, and she was very much awake when we sat down just in time for the fireworks and laser light show. I told her how much I loved her, how glad I was to have her as a daughter, how much I enjoyed spending this special day with her. She told me I was the best dad and then we watched the show. An American Portrait, it was called, and it was patriotism to the max. It was pretty good, actually, but I confess that I miss the rock-and-roll-themed laser-light show from my childhood. Every time I hear “What I Like About You” by the Cars, even today, I am teleported back into my own childhood, and it’s dark and I have spent a whole day roller-coastering, and I’m about to fall asleep in the car and roller-coaster in my dreams.
This time, of course, it was my daughter who fell asleep about three minutes into the return car trip. I didn’t have that luxury. My three-ish hour drive home was brought to you by three cans of cherry Nos (or, as I like to call it, the Drink of Ultimate Desperation). I got home after 1 am, more tired than I’d been in quite a while, but also filled with that vague but satisfying feeling of having done something.
I don’t know exactly what I wanted or expected from the experience, and I don’t know what I got from it. I know that I wanted it to be .. meaningful, and I think it was, but what exactly it meant .. to me or to her .. I couldn’t really say. I have a slightly better-defined notion of what I hoped my daughter would get out of it, and though she talks happily about how much fun she had, you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Not ever, really. Not even your best friend or your spouse. Not even your child.
Not even yourself.