17 Apr Don’t Stress about S%#t You Can’t Control*
I work a little bit too much, so when my daughter told me that I was taking her and her friends to Busch Gardens amusement park on Good Friday I didn’t say no right away. Busch Gardens is about 3.5 hours away from where we live, so I suggested that we go to a different park that’s only about 2 hours away. I don’t mind long drives only as long as I’m not driving, so the thought of 7 hours there and back was a bit much. She wanted too many friends to come to even fit in the car, let alone another adult who could drive. I also told her that it would likely be very crowded. However, she was set on Busch Gardens, and when she’s set on something there’s almost no room for conversation. As soon as I had said I would consider it, the die was cast.
One one level, it is hard to imagine things going any worse than they did, but on another level the day was a triumph. We planned to leave reasonably early at 7:30 in order to get there in time to have a somewhat full day. Without much fuss or conflict, we were on the road to pick up her friend by 7:35. We only had to wait a few minutes there, grabbed her other friend (whose father hitched a ride to work with us- daughter in his lap). We were fully on the road by 8:15 (and 15 minutes closer to our goal at that point). The ride up was smooth. My daughter, her sister, and their two friends watched shows on their devices and generally were pleasant with each other. I had to stop to go to the bathroom a couple of times because I’d drunk a bunch of coffee, but the girls sat tight.
My younger daughter got hungry as we approached our goal, so as we took an earlier exit towards Busch Gardens which we were told would give us less traffic and deliver us to a fast food joint. Somehow we missed the food and ran into a traffic jam headed in the direction of Busch Gardens. We were using the Waze app which is supposed to help navigate around traffic issues. It sent us back towards a highway that would loop us around the jam. Instead of saving us, it took us slightly farther afield to another jam. After sitting in that for 20 minutes, it announced it had found a better route. We were within a mile of our destination by 11:30, so we were feeling pretty good- if slightly frustrated by the traffic. Still, despite the hunger issues, everyone remained in a positive mood. I was aware that I was starting to get frustrated, but was happy to be moving again even if it meant driving a few extra miles. I also had to pee.
We followed the app’s directions to an exit 4 miles further up the road. We then took a left, then a right, then the U-turn it told us to take and then a right and… we were back on the highway going in the direction from whence wed’d come… in heavy construction traffic. About 20 minutes later, we were inching our way through the exit traffic toward the amusement park. To make a long story short, all of the traffic was due to the crush of people trying to get into the parking lot. 45 minutes later – as we got to the parking toll booth – things started to move more quickly. It seems they’d given up on charging for parking and simply opened the gates.
By 1:30 we were parked. By 2:00 we were in the park… sort of. We’d made it through the gates, but it was so crowded that it was hard to move. There were massive lines for all the food shops and hour plus lines for all the rides. I took a deep breath and tried to check in with my frustration. It was there but it wasn’t overwhelming. I reminded myself to simply be present and not think about the problems with the situation. We had gotten in line for a roller coaster called the Lochness before we realized it would take an hour. We got out and tried to find some kind of food solution. On the way there, we saw a short line for another coaster. It was broken… When we got to the third coaster… it too was broken. Luckily we turned a corner and found a nearly empty self-serve food stall. We grabbed a couple of turkey legs, a corn dog, and a bottomless soda. It was 2:45 and everyone was still fine. My older daughter was apologetic. “I’m sorry I made us come here,” she stated. I assured her I wasn’t mad, but told her that in the future she might at least listen to the concerns I presented. My daughter and I are very similar, so I understand a lot of where she’s coming from. In fact, I understand it so well, that some of our conflict comes from the fact that I understand well enough to save her from a lot of mistakes and pain- and the fact that she won’t listen to me can be brutally frustrating. I really wanted the girls to have fun this day, so I made sure to really let her know that it wasn’t her fault, and then complimented her on her conciliation.
There was a small ride across the way from us that didn’t have too long of a line. It was one of those rides that are often at state fairs and places like Coney Island: a spinning sleigh ride with bench seats that bob on a track as it circulates around a central disco ball. It’s the kind of ride that isn’t a big attraction at a major amusement park, so within 15 min we’d made a spin. It was 2:45 and we had one ride under our belt.
We made it to another coaster with big drops and loops. My younger daughter was not up for it, so the three older girls got in line and she and I took a little cable car ride. When we got off, we headed back towards the coaster that had been closed when we first arrived. It had been running for a while but had just broken down again. We then got in line for the kind of ride pictured above. It took about 30 minutes to get on. I had to answer a few emails while we were in line, but I also spent time hugging my younger daughter and giving her my full attention. When we got on the swings, we had a lot of fun. As it spun I kept trying to chase her and she loved it. She and I have gone to the state fair in North Carolina the last four years. I take pictures and she goes on rides. I guess I was trying extra hard to be present this day because I only took 1 photo- the one at the top of this post.
At this point, I was getting a little bit more frustrated at the situation because I was aware that I had driven 6 hours and spent nearly 400 dollars for a couple of flat, carnival-type rides. I felt powerless. I once again meditated on the idiocy of making those calculations because they only made the situation worse. The truth was, the situation was what it was, and any frustration was my own problem and it wasn’t making the day better. After the ride, my daughter was hungry, so we went in search of food and finally found a soft pretzel. As she finished her pretzel, my older daughter called to say they were in line for the coaster that had been broken, so we took off running to meet them. When we got there, I busted through the line saying, “I have to find my daughter,” repeatedly until we reached them. It was now 4:45, and we’d gone on essentially two rides so far. When we met up, the older girls were in great spirits. They’d ridden one wild roller coaster and were excited to try another. As we waited in line, I spent some time on the phone with my film partner trying to work out details related to releasing our film. The girls didn’t seem to mind the slow moving line at all and were having a great time. Just as we neared the end of the line, the coaster broke again. A lot of people started to leave, and we inched forward. After 15 minutes, we too gave up. It was now 5:10. Just outside the coaster, there was a henna tattoo stand. I agreed to get them all tattoos and decided to use the time to call customer service for a refund. After about 5 minutes, it was clear that I wasn’t going to get anyone on the line. My daughter said, “Forget the tattoos, let’s go ask for our money back.”
We made our way back to the entrance. It took a while because the park was still packed and it’s spread out and confusing. Thankfully, and surprisingly, the line at customer service wasn’t bad at all. Within five minutes, I approached the desk. I told the representative about our day and said, “I know you won’t do a refund but…” He stopped me and said, “No, I think that’s possible. This is the worst day we’ve ever experienced.” Turns out, the parking problem was because they had decided to ask for ID’s and take photos at the parking entrance. He also knew that many coasters had been down, so I faced no resistance.
The girls were still in good spirits and hadn’t felt like the day was a waste. I think in the past, I would have expressed a lot of anger to the customer rep, because frankly I had a lot to be angry about. However, I just explained why I thought I should get a refund, and he agreed. When this particular set of girls gets together, there can be a lot of conflict. On this day, there wasn’t. We hit the road, and it was smooth sailing all the way home. As I drove, I had time to think about how I engage in situations like this. I didn’t do perfectly by any means, but I did a lot better than I might have in the past. Over the last several years, I have put a great deal of effort into unpacking my own issues by becoming more present and aware of my reactions to the world, and what those reactions say about where I’m at. I know that I carried a little bit of frustration into the park- but I was aware of it and able to observe it rather than spiral into it. At points during the time I was alone with my daughter, I found myself going inward, thinking about work and other things, and I tried to bring myself patiently back to being present with her. When the two turkey legs, a corn dog, and a soda cost 41 dollars, I checked in with my negative reaction and let it go immediately. My goal for the day was to make it possible for the girls to have a good time. Surprisingly they did, and I just rolled with it. Practice makes what seems impossible, more possible.
My idea of hell isn’t exactly “other people”, but it does involve overly crowded commercialized spaces, so the fact that I was able to keep my dark cloud of anti-corporate sentiment from raining on the kid’s parade was a profound victory. I did not have a “good time”, but it wasn’t awful by any means. Given the circumstances of the day, I’ll put this in the win column.