Theme Parks A Great Way To Reconnect With Family


I went to Orlando (a code word for “theme park”) last weekend with my son, Charlie. As frequent readers have probably figured out by now, going to theme parks is all I want to do with my free time. I get a little money in my pocket, and off I go to ride my favorite roller coaster, the Hulk, and enjoy a $15.95 hotdog. (FYI: It’s important to do those two things in that order.)

But I’ve figured out how to beat the system! I buy an annual pass and a dining pass and watch the cost per visit go down each time I show up.

Well, that’s how it works in theory. What actually happens is I start inviting people to go with me, since my admission is “free.” I pay for their admission and their lunch, but parking ($20) and snacks (not cheap, either) are up to them.

Net savings to me? Zippity-doo-dah.

Return on my investment? Priceless.

I get to see all my friends and family, and we actually get to know each other over the hours and hours we spend standing in line. I may be the only person on the planet who goes to theme parks for the lines. But think about it: when do we really have time to talk anymore? Family reunions and parties are too busy, and conversation that used to take place around the dinner table is nothing but a quaint old notion. We speak to each other as we eat dinner on the couch during TV commercials. That is, if we don’t use that time to check our phones.

So, when you have a quiet son like mine — a kid who doesn’t speak unless he’s spoken to and seldom then — theme park lines are our last bastion of hope. Even then, you have to start out slowly and ease him into it. You have to ask about his friends and what they’re doing. You have to be careful not to say things like, “Well, at least he has a job!” or anything else that comes off as judgmental.

Not that Charlie doesn’t have a job. He does. He also calls his mother, sends cards on holidays and has attended college. He served in the U.S. Army, has a girlfriend and jumps in to help his friends whenever they need it.

He’s a good kid. He’s just quiet.

So we start out talking about what his friends are doing and then slowly, sloooooowly, dip our toe in to test the water with something that pertains to him. Something like, “How’s work going?” If the answer is monosyllabic (“Fine.”), I must immediately back off and get back to strangers: “Whatever happened to Stephanie in accounting? Did she ever marry that guy?” and work my way back up to my real questions.

For the record, my real questions are always the same, “Are you OK? Are you happy? Do I need to worry about you more than I already am?” And the unspoken, “Speak to me!”

Because I love you.