Every time I do something new with my kids, I feel a little older. Last Christmas, Jack’s parents sent us a check for $200 with a note that read, “Please use this gift to do something fun with the kids.” In the rush of holiday activities, I set the check aside and forgot about it. A few weeks before Easter, I sat at the dining room table drinking my morning coffee and contemplating spring break. A brilliant idea popped into my head. I called Jack at work.
“You know that check we got from your parents for Christmas?” I asked.
“Uh-huh,” Jack answered. I could hear the tap-tap-tap of keystrokes as he worked at his computer.
“Why don’t we use it to take the kids to Knott’s Berry Farm over Easter vacation? Your folks said to do something fun. And we’ve never taken the whole family to an amusement park.”
“What about Legoland?”
Jack stopped typing. “That doesn’t count. It’s too close to home, and it’s not really much of an amusement park. Just think about the Knott’s Berry Farm idea.”
“I don’t have to think about it,” Jack said. “It sounds good to me.”
That afternoon when I picked up Rebecca, Angela, Lucy, and Johnny at school, I told them, “Guess what we get to do during Easter vacation?”
“What?” they asked in unison.
“Go to Knott’s Berry Farm,” I answered.
“Really?” Angela sounded incredulous. Three years ago, my sister Anita took Angela and Rebecca to Knott’s for a three-day holiday during the summer. They had happy memories of their trip.
“Yes,” I assured her.
“What’s Knott’s Berry Farm?” Johnny asked.
“It’s an amusement park with rides and fun things to do,” I told him. “Like Legoland, only better.”
“Is it like Disneyland?” Lucy asked. Last summer, Anita took all three girls and me to Disneyland for yet another three-day extravaganza.
“Kind of. It’s not quite as fancy. At least not the way I remember it.”
“You’ve been to Knott’s Berry Farm?” Rebecca asked. Now she sounded incredulous.
“Sure. I went there when I was in junior high.”
“How long ago was that?” Lucy continued the interrogation.
“Not that long ago.” I did the calculations in my head. I was about 12 the last time I went to Knott’s Berry Farm. I turned 42 in March. “It was only 30 YEARS AGO,” I told the kids. It was my turn to sound incredulous.
“Thirty years?” Rebecca asked. “I didn’t know Knott’s Berry Farm was that old.”
“Yep,” I cackled like an old woman. “It was a wagon stop along a dirt road. They had strawberry fields and a lunch room where Mrs. Knott herself would make fried chicken and strawberry jam.”
“Stop it, Mommy,” Ben said from the backseat. Ben doesn’t like it when I don’t sound like myself
“Just kidding. Yes, it’s that old. They even had roller coasters.”
The Thursday after Easter, Jack and I loaded the kids in the van and headed north from our home in San Marcos toward Knott’s Berry Farm. “How long will it take to get there?” Angela asked.
“It depends on the traffic,” I answered. “We should be there by lunchtime.”
When we got to Knott’s, I parked the van and smeared sunscreen on everyone. We hiked to the main entrance and stood in line for 20 minutes to purchase tickets. “I’m hot,” Johnny complained.
“I’m hungry,” Ben added.
“When can we eat lunch?” Lucy asked.
“Soon,” I promised. “Soon.”
An hour later, after waiting in line for a locker to stash our sweatshirts and waiting in line to buy lunch, we sat on the balcony in Camp Snoopy eating $8 cheeseburgers and plotting our plan of attack. I spread the park map in front of me. “I think we should start with the rides we can all go on together,” I told Jack. “That would be the Log Ride and the Calico Railroad.”
“Those are both really fun,” Angela said.
“Are they scary?” Ben asked.
“No,” I assured him. “You get to ride in a log like a boat and go down a waterfall.”
“That sounds scary,” Johnny said.
“It’s not scary,” Rebecca said in her exasperated big-sister voice. “It’s fun.”
After lunch, we headed to the Log Ride. The line moved quickly. As we approached the loading dock, I told Jack, “The girls want me to ride with them. Will you be okay with both boys?”
“I guess so.”
At the ride’s end, I looked back to see Ben’s red, contorted face wet with tears. Johnny looked stoic but scared. “I’m so sorry,” I told Jack.
“When we went down the big waterfall in the dark, I was so scared,” Ben managed to say between sobs.
“Johnny was scared, too,” Jack said. “But he was brave.”
We split up after that. Jack took Ben for a walk. Johnny and the girls rode the Calico Mine Ride with me. Later in the day, I took the boys to the kiddie rides in Camp Snoopy while the girls rode the Ghost Rider roller coaster with Jack. At the end of the day as we piled back into the van for the ride home, Ben said, “I had fun, Mom. But the Log Ride was so scary.”
After an entire day on my feet, I felt more than a little old.