‘Restful’ vacation quickly turns to purgatory

We just got back from a week-long trip to Orlando, Fla.

The kids had a blast, but my husband and I would be content if we never visited another amusement park for the rest of our lives.

On the third or fourth day of our “vacation,” we knew ourselves to be trapped in some sort of amusement park purgatory. Similar to Sisyphus, forced to endlessly push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down again, we were compelled to forever push a stroller and herd two other children through a maze of people and attractions, to stand in long lines only to ride neck-jarring roller coasters, to stand in long lines to buy expensive but poor quality food, to wait
in long lines and pay ridiculous amounts of money just to park our over-priced rental car.

Yes, we were witness to some crazy sights at these amusement parks. The highlight of the trip (for everyone but my Muggle husband) was strolling through the imagined world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. We tasted Butterbeer, bought chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and ate at the Hogsmeade Inn. It was mind-blowing, for nerds like us.

But the craziest sight by far was witnessed not at Sea World, or Disney World or Universal Studios, nor even at Gatorland. It was witnessed at an upscale Italian restaurant in our hotel.

My husband and I were happy to get out for a couple of hours one evening without the kids. It was blissful. Picture Lady and Tramp spooling spaghetti round forks, finding themselves nose to nose, batting eyelashes at one another while music played softly in the background.

We savored our freedom, until the family with two of the most misbehaved children we’ve ever seen took the table next to ours.

While the young father seated himself, the young mother proceeded to herd the two petulant boys – at a guess, around the ages of four and two – to their seats. As she wrestled the youngest into a high chair, the four-year-old chose the opportunity to bolt for a nearby door and open it a few inches, letting in cold air that cooled my very own food.

A man that I guessed to be the grandfather told him sternly to close the door and sit down in his seat. The boy took his time at the open door, but sit down he eventually did, only to get back up again a few seconds later.

Now I’ll have to cue the amusement park music to accompany the table’s high-jinks from here on out, because – I kid you not – the boy started to run laps around the table. In a nice restaurant. With paying customers nearby. He ran those short legs like he was in some kind of contest, as if someone held a stop watch and clipboard, as if he were being cheered on by a stadium of fans.

Meanwhile, the mother scampered back and forth from seat to seat, producing sippy cups and toys from her bag. And the two men stared at their menus as if their lives depended on it, neither lifting a finger nor uttering a word to the little demon blazing a trail around them.

Their orders were taken while the boy crawled through the rungs of their chairs, kicking and whining. Their food arrived, but the boy had no appetite for anything other than aerobic exercise. He eventually tired of running around the table and opted instead to run endlessly up and down an unoccupied booth that stretched half the length of the restaurant.

Plates and glasses and cutlery glittered on the nearby tables, ripe for the crashing. At the bitter end, he took to holding onto the back of his mother’s chair and wailing while his little brother accompanied him.

I tried not to stare, I really did. But my meal was forgotten, my prior bliss a fading memory. I didn’t understand how the adults could sit there and calmly eat their rather expensive suppers while their little boy was clearly in need of an exorcism.

Any sane parent would have never brought such children out to dinner, not even to McDonald’s. It was coming up on nine o’clock, after all, and from the looks on all their zombie-like faces, Orlando had taken its toll on them, just as it had on me and my husband.

And all at once, I felt kind of sorry for them. They too were trapped in vacation purgatory. True, it seemed to be a self-induced purgatory that might well last until their children moved out of their house if they didn’t learn how to discipline their children, but still, I shared their exhausted mind-set.

Once children enter the picture, “vacation” isn’t restful anymore, not even for the children.
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The annual James River Parade of Lights, sponsored by the James River Advisory Council in cooperation with Henrico Recreation and Parks, will start at 4 p.m. Henrico County’s viewing celebration will take place at Osborne Boat Landing, located at 9530 Osborne Tnpk. Gather around the bonfire and enjoy holiday music and activities. A Toy Parade, sponsored by the Battlefield Ruritans, will precede the Parade of Lights at 3 p.m. Admission is free. For details, call 652-1434 or visit http://www.henrico.us/rec. Full text

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