Adoption Stories and the Transformer Ride: Thrilling

04.30.12

Mr. G is traveling which means that I get to be Mom and Dad. Which means that the kids get a really great Mom and a horrible Dad. I’m just not good at baseball things and playing when I’m tired. When I’m tired I nap. When Mr. G is tired he plays with the kids anyhow. I’m not him.

Sunday morning I was up bright and early at the crack of 9am. Hello! It’s Sunday you’re supposed to lounge in bed. At 10am Alexander and I were at his baseball lesson. I’ve never watched his new coach and I had zero expectations for the morning but I couldn’t believe what I saw. When Alexander was hitting wrong he sort of stopped and said, “Hey, do you mind if I suggest something?” And my son of course said, “no.” Then he proceeded to get him to stand a little wider and bend his back knee more. More carrot, less stick.

I know this sound unremarkable, but it’s not. The level of respect was so high that my son never stopped smiling. He spent 30 minutes batting and grinning and getting better with every swing. There wasn’t more instruction with this coach than there has been with others there was just a manner that made it joyful. So basically baseball has been saved. Alexander has amazing team coaches, he’s umpiring (and earning a few dollars doing it) and the Sunday morning private coach is just pumping him up more.

We started the day nicely.

After baseball we headed home and grabbed Jane and then went to Universal Studios. There’s a Transformers ride that’s going to open next month and the folks at Universal gave me a couple of passes so we could try it out.

So. Much. Fun.

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It reminded me a little of the Mummy ride because it’s sort of 3-d and rollercoaster all wrapped up into one. In order to be certain we ran over to ride the Mummy again and then we weren’t 100% sure how we felt about the rides so we hopped on the Transformers Ride again with one more dash to the Mummy. They’re close to each other and I love them both.

Yes, we rode Transformers and The Mummy twice each within about 25 minutes. I bore children as a cover to go to theme parks. After another hour of dashing to the Simpsons and something else we really needed to leave. We had an unremarkable lunch at the Hard Rock Café up at City Walk and then ran home to drop Jane off so I could bring Alexander to his tennis match.

This was singles match number two in his life. He played really well and the kid he played against was about the sweetest boy I’ve ever seen. There was a lot of “good shot” and “nice rally” along with hand shaking and long rallies. It was the second perfect sport of the day for my son and we were both grinning from ear to ear.

While I was watching the match I got to chatting with one of the dads. He said to me, “Which child is yours.” And I gave him my standard answer, “The cute one.” He laughed and said, “Mine’s the other cute one but it has nothing to do with me, I adopted him.”

I am obsessed with adoption stories. I love hearing them so much because adoptive parents come from a really special place. It’s one thing to decide to have a baby either with nature or with science but it’s a completely different story when one or more people decide to love a child that’s already here.

I told him I had a million questions and I explained to him that I’d grown up in a house where my father facilitated adoptions. He matched families with pregnant women and did all the legal work in exchange for a donation to the local free clinic in the child’s name. It was an entirely altruistic part of his life and work that I suspect he misses quite a bit. The babies are mostly in California and the youngest ones are probably adults but they all felt like part of our life story.

Have a Bar Mitzvah? Well let’s hope that’s a quick labor. Restaurant opening? Maybe he can take a taxi before dessert because her water hasn’t broken yet. Soccer game? Baby being born, no dice.

These interruptions weren’t disruptive at all, they just made us all smile. It wasn’t like he was missing he was just busy salvaging a horrible situation for one lady and making a family for another. We marked time with the babies.

So I asked the tennis Dad about his adoption and he began with a most remarkable story about turning a certain age and not caring if he was ever married but knowing that he had to be a parent. He adopted a seven year old from foster care right here in Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful story (as all adoption stories are) but it’s different because he didn’t adopt a newborn or even a toddler. He adopted a school aged boy, few people adopt school aged children. It’s too much work and too much uncertainty.

I was peppering him with questions because really I wanted to spend about three days following them around taking notes and trying to understand what it was like those first days, weeks and then months. What is the birthday tradition? How long before you say “I love you”? How long before the child believes it? Do they miss their parents, do they even remember them? Do you ever go back to that part of town? Would there be a reason to? Spirituality? Religion? I have so many questions but I only got to one of them.

What was the thing that surprised you most about having him show up at your house?

Tennis Dad talked about learning to listen to him. That when he described pains like a sore throat or a stomachache that there was something going on and you don’t have to be bleeding to be hurt (I’m so guilty of this).

While he was talking about learning to listen my son came to me and asked to go home. “I’m tired,” He said, “I’m not sure I want to go to baseball practice later.” And I asked him if he had another match to play. I congratulated him on a match well played and we left when all I wanted to do was ask Tennis Dad more about his unconventional entry into parenthood.

I’m learning to listen to my son too and he did not attend the baseball practice.

Disneyland, Universal Studios Florida and California, and Legoland VIP Tours

02.8.11

In the past eighteen months I’ve accompanied my children on VIP tours of four theme parks. Disneyland in Anaheim, Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Hollywood, and Legoland in San Diego. If you can swing it I highly recommend a VIP tour at any amusement park you go to. It is quite often more than double the price of admission, but the experience is more than four times as pleasant. You can see a park, sometimes two, in a day, and the likelihood of your child (or of you) melting down is significantly reduced. If you’re in the habit of taking a trip to a theme park every year I’d even suggest cutting the visits down to once every two years and making them VIP trips instead of the traditional trip.
Disneyland:
Surprisingly this was the least impressive of all VIP tours. We were a large group of 30 with three guides between us, so there is clearly more risk. The morning was lovely, the kids were able to get in a half dozen rides before lunch, and then we had lunch at Goofy’s Kitchen. The food here is absolutely revolting. It’s a sugary fatty buffet where everything is overcooked and oversalted. The service was excellent, but the salad bar was an afterthought. I hear that the mac and cheese was good as was the mac and cheese pizza… which to me is a delicacy that should only exist in a college dorm after a night of binge drinking. I do love that there are stands with fresh fruit all around the park, I picked up a few bananas for some quick energy, and bless Disneyland for keeping the water fountains peppering the park so you don’t have to walk around with water bottles.

Our guides were good until one of them got tired, and there was some eye rolling at our children. Sadly this coincided with a horrendous bartender at California Adventure who refused to provide us with proper wine glasses (as opposed to plastic) because the people in the dining room were the priority. This was said in between loud sighs. Explaining to her that we’d just purchased four bottles of wine at $60 a piece as well as a dozen appetizers did little to appease her. An apologetic and embarrassed server brought us water glasses that had been hanging in the rack right over the bartender’s head, and assured us that she would explain the situation to the manager.

It was all very good, and certainly much better than Disneyland would have been without the VIP experience, but still it was Disneyland and they could learn a thing or two from the folks at Legoland and Universal.

Universal Studios Orlando: I’ve documented my experience with Universal Orlando here. I was lucky enough to take my kids there on a press tour, and to date I’ve never seen anything so impressive. I recognize that we (as press) were likely given the best two guides in the park, and treated to the best food that a theme park can offer. It is with that information that I offer you a highly skewed rave review of Universal Orlando (though I do include pictures of our guides so you can have the same fabulous experience).

Universal Studios Hollywood: ($249 per person) The kids loved Universal Orlando so much that we ended up having a similar day at Universal California. The tour was worth every penny, the guide was attentive, efficient, and like our guides at the Orlando location she had a plan that would take us through the park in a way that wouldn’t exhaust everyone and would also give the kids (and I) the theme park experience (the good part of the experience).

Universal Studios is a little more adult than the other parks, so as evening approaches it’s still family friendly, but you’ll get the boozy twenty somethings. In the last few years they’ve done a good job of cleaning up the City Walk at night, but there’s still a skeeze factor at night that persists.

Legoland: This was another large party. Fifteen or so boys and their mothers, three guides and a very difficult day. It was raining so the guides had to maneuver us through the park in a way that made sense in the rain. Legoland was just incredible, the guides were polite and attentive, they gently suggested different areas when the rain would start, and then as sunlight peeked through they’d whip us in another direction and bring the boys to a place where they could ride something.

Even in the most uncomfortable moments, freezing winds (okay it felt freezing to this So Cal native), grey skies, rain, whiny kids, the guides at Legoland never stopped smiling, never stopped helping and they always had another plan. It’s not a great place to go on a rainy day unless you’ve got someone to help you through it and fourteen of your closest friends (the kids had a BLAST). Also, the food there was not nearly as impressive as the food at Universal Orlando (no one’s has been) but it was possible to cobble together a healthy meal.