It wasn’t my idea. In fact, it never would have been my idea. But my sister proposed it, and when I figured out that JetBlue flies non-stop to Orlando out of the micro-airport that’s 10 minutes from my house, I signed on.
I packed a bag, on the sly, and loaded it into the obscured way-back of the car. My husband announced that we had errands to run, a light fixture to return, groceries to buy and we piled into the car before 10 on Saturday morning.
It wasn’t until we’d stopped in front of the terminal that she looked up and said “where are we going?” I merrily refused to tell her, and led her into the airport, and up to the observation deck. She kept asking, and I kept grinning, until I suggested that she open her backpack and try to guess. Out came her wand and Gryffindor t-shirt: “we’re going to a Harry Potter convention?!?”
Well, not exactly, but close enough: we went to what I like to call Harry Potter Land, that theme park formally known as Universal Orlando. Three nights and two days, many roller coasters and countless foot-miles. Me and my sister, and our four children. Some tears, a lot of screaming, plenty of laughter and nothing but mediocre food. Still. It was fun, and exhausting, and butterbeer was had, and I never have to do it again.
My child, my nine year old child, turns out to be a thrill-seeker, speed demon. After whimpering in my lap “I want to go on it, but I’m afraid of the corkscrew”, she gathered up her courage and climbed on the “Rip Ride Rockit”. Midway down the first drop, she screamed “I LOVE THIS RIDE”.
Travel is good. Travel takes you out of your routine, into a world that’s not your own. And even though a theme park in Florida isn’t exactly a visit to an Etruscan ruin or a trip to Paris, it has a certain something. At one point, I found myself sitting on a park bench in the shade, waiting for the others, facing a New York City street facade. Oh, that’s what the movie people think is the distillation of New York?
Is it always winter at Hogwarts?
And how can it be winter if there are palm trees right over here?
The last two books I read were about travel. One was “Heads In Beds”, a snarky delicious horrifying look at hotels, from the point of view of a front desk manager. Believe me when I tell you that it spurred me to tip more generously than I’ve ever tipped in the past, and to examine – very carefully – the water glass in the bathroom. The other was “A Week at the Airport”, a contemplative meditation of that liminal space where people come and go and never stay. The airport isn’t your destination, it’s not your home, it’s but a way station – unless, of course, you work there. I will sit on that bench and watch the people come and go, until it’s my turn to get up and go, and while there, I’ll entertain a certain curiosity about the inner workings of the airport and all that needs doing to get us from here to there.
Travel with a child is altogether eye-opening. The first words out of the girl’s mouth, even before we got to the hotel’s registration desk, were “can we live here?” Was it the high ceilings, the men in pith helmets, the burbling fountain in the lobby? Was it the huge pool, with the noodles and beach balls and poolside drink service? Was it the amusement park a water taxi away?
It’s also thoroughly frustrating. Healthy food options? Not so much. Why yes, I am the mean mama who orders the side salad instead of fries with those chicken fingers. Nearly every ride exits through the gift shop. How many times did I say no? How many times did she ask me to buy her something? No. No no no no no. No. Okay. I did have to buy her a new bathing suit because the one I packed turned out to have desiccated, crunchy elastic. She was out of luck on underwear though - I somehow completely forgot to pack any for her, so she was forced to borrow a pair from her cousin while I washed hers in the bathroom sink. If the hotel boutique had had underwear for purchase, I would have bought some in a heartbeat.
We flew back to real life, spotting near-home landmarks from the air: the high school, her elementary school, the bike path/rail trail bridge across the reservoir. Daddy met us at the airport, and we were home, home again. And even though I didn’t buy her everything she asked for, like the iPad mini in a Best Buy vending machine in the Orlando airport, I think she had a splendid time.