People talk incessantly about how different today's world is for kids, but what amazes me is how little has actually changed. If you don't believe me, walk into any amusement park in America -- not the big-ticket Disney extravaganzas, but the more modest, day trip parks, fueled almost exclusively by roller coasters and teen hormones.
I say this as a mom who went full Six Flags yesterday: it's all the same. I rode rides even when the kids wouldn't, downed three super-size Cokes with popcorn and greasy cheese-product pizza, paid extra for arcade games no one could possibly win and screamed so much I am completely hoarse today.
My girls shouted with laughter when they caught Daffy Duck removing his head behind the "Restricted Area" door, and all the kids watched in delighted awe as a puker shut down the Gotham City Crime Wave with a 10-ft. splash of vomit curving in the wake of his swing. They unanimously voted to stay in line.
I let my son's friend convince me that the Log Jamboree would end with a "slight misting," despite the father wringing out his daughter's neon green t-shirt at the entrance and the woman sheepishly removing a shower cap as she retreated down the wooden ramp. I got to see my son open his eyes one at a time at the end of the Mindbender, his expression the closest thing to cartoon frozen shock I have ever encountered. It still makes me laugh out loud.
The music blaring from the speakers made me feel as if the entire park had frozen since I'd last been there as a teenager, only to start up again as I walked through the gates. Prince, Molly Hatchet, Jody Watley, The Doobie Brothers, Huey Lewis, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Debbie Gibson, Culture Club and Backstreet Boys once again ruled the airwaves. The entire day, I didn't hear a single song that came out post-1989.
I saw people with bumps and bulges protruding from inexplicable places, and a toothless woman in the backseat of a jalopy being driven around a track by a young girl. I can't imagine a closer likeness to Lil' Abner unless you stuck a corncob pipe in her mouth. In the bathroom, I had to steer my staring child around a teenage girl, wailing about a boy and leaving mascara stains on her friend's shoulder.
I waited at a lemonade stand window for a full five minutes as the cashier and cook discussed how to handle the $5.01 I'd presented to pay for a $3.91 purchase. They never did figure it out, and looked dubious when I finally interjected, as if I was somehow trying to trick them. The girl at the M&M Emporium told me that "large" was the smallest clothing size they carried, then whispered that she'd let me have the AAA discount without proof of membership. She had me sign the receipt with a counterfeit highlighter because the store was out of pens. At the Superhero store, the cashier asked if I could walk to an entirely different section of the park to alert her manager that she was out of receipt paper. I said yes. A boy shopping beside us was wearing a gray high school football tee, and one of the lines on the back read, "CHS cheerleaders has spirit!"
I saw clean-cut church groups in matching tie-dyes and clumps of teens with sweaty, disheveled chaperones, backs propped against concrete posts, shouting "At the gate by 3:45!" to no one in particular. Strutting boys shoved each other down crowded walkways, and pony-tailed girls chomped gum and tied t-shirts in matching side-knots, sneering delightedly over their shoulders. A requisite pasty, balding man hovered alone by the claw machine, pointing out a "lucky" penny on the ground and encouraging female passersby to pick it up.
Waiting in line to buy our last overpriced slushies of the day, we widened our eyes and laughed with complete strangers, as the world's flattest karaoke singer serenaded us at arena-rock volume from the stage to our right. The man behind us was still smiling when he shook his head not to worry, as my son took one squirt from each of the 9,000 flavors at the slushie fountain.
We limped to the exits, sipping chemically-flavored ice from giant plastic cowboy boots, sunburned, stinking, and satisfied. Beautiful weather, happy kids, short lines, crazy people. All in all, kind of a perfect day.