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winning legoland

For the last three years, I have successfully avoided traveling with my children unless absolutely necessary. But given that Finn is now almost six, what I had previously justified as self-preservation began to feel a little like I was robbing my kids of formative experiences. So I booked a trip to Legoland.

When traveling with children, I find that it helps to build up the dread beforehand until it’s well-nigh immobilizing. There’s no way your trip can end up being as horrific as your imagination, so you’re left with the conviction that you nailed the vacation, and nailed it but good. I also recommend having a parenting partner as organized and goal-focused as mine. Of the many epiphanies I experienced on this trip, the most profound one was the realization that I had somehow ended up marrying my dad.

My dad was a master planner and organizer. But he had nothing on Tom, who views planning and organizing with the glee that most of us reserve for birthday cake. At Legoland, I saw Tom in his element. The morning of our visit, he hurried the family through showers and breakfast, having heard that the parking lot at Legoland can fill up well before 9:30, when the park opens. My rational mind told me that it didn’t make sense to drive to Legoland at 8:30 when the park didn’t open until an hour later, but the thing about panic is that it bears no regard for the rational mind, and is contagious to boot. So I followed Tom’s lead, yelling at the kids when they failed to shotgun their orange juice with appropriate speed, and snapping at the valet who brought our car around two minutes behind schedule.

It’s a good thing we hurried, because, as you can see, the parking lot was almost full when we screeched in at 8:40 AM.

I had a few pithy comments for Tom at the moment that I was surreptitiously taking this picture, but I kept them to myself, partly because we had made a pact that we would be especially nice to one another that day, but mostly because I felt sorry for him. Not that Tom himself was fazed. Tom doesn’t second-guess himself. Tom also doesn’t feel embarrassment, like normal people do. Here, opening up the stroller, he was probably congratulating himself on the prime parking spot that his efforts had secured for the family.

We moved to the entrance, where we couldn’t even burn time off the clock by buying tickets, since we’d already purchased them beforehand to avoid the lines that we discovered to be non-existent at 8:45 AM. So there we were, with 45 minutes to kill at the gates, with a 2-year old and a 5-year old. As any parent can testify, 45 minutes in bored toddler time is roughly equivalent to 17 adult hours. We hadn’t even entered the park and I already felt exhausted, and scared. How would I divert them for 45 minutes, when my iPhone batteries were good for only another 25?

Thankfully, Tom had plans for that time. Laying out the park map, he began planning out the day’s route with the boys. Convinced that the commoners would start their day by moving to the right through the Imagination Zone, Tom insisted we would begin by going left, through Dino Island and DUPLO Village. I listened to Tom mutter to himself that if everything went according to plan, we could be at Star Wars Miniland by lunch.

Once the route was all planned out, Tom asked me to stay with the boys while he got tips from Guest Services about the best way to rack up points on his Lego VIP card (below). For those not in the know, the VIP card is the free membership card you get at your local Lego store. You accrue points with your Lego purchases, to be saved up for rewards, like free Legos. Tom remembered to pack and bring the Lego VIP card all the way from Portland to Legoland, which requires a level of foresight and nerdiness that I’m at a loss to put into words. The closest thing I can compare it to is bringing your Benihana Chef’s Table membership card with you when you go to Benihana on your birthday. I always have the intention of doing that but inevitably decide that my pride is worth more than the cost of a meal. Anyway, Tom thought he’d rack that VIP card up with a ton of points from the day’s purchases. So I’m really proud that he kept it together when he came back from Guest Services to tell me that the VIP card doesn’t work at Legoland, because Legoland is not, it turns out, owned by Lego.

Once inside the park, Tom got over his disappointment about the VIP card and turned his attention to his ultimate goal: getting Finn on Legoland’s marquee ride. At Legoland, there are a bunch of rides, but the most popular ride of all is the Volvo Driving School, which is essentially a large plot of land with a bunch of streets on which kids aged 6-13 can drive around in little Lego cars. I have no explanation for the popularity of this ride, which is like bumper cars without the excitement of the bumping. But it is highly touted in the guidebook literature as one of the featured attractions at Legoland, and as such, Tom wasn’t about to let an age requirement keep his firstborn from getting into one of those cars.

The end result was hardly certain, as everything hinged on Finn’s ability to lie to an authority figure, something he had proven himself incapable of doing a year ago, when, as a tall four year old, we asked him to say that he was five in order to get into a day camp at a lawyer convention that we had dragged him to. Finn nodded solemnly as we explained that if he wanted to play with the other kids at the convention, he would have to say that he was five when asked his age by the camp counselor managing the check-in desk. As we waited in line, he gave off the quietly confident air of the star athlete who has been entrusted with the final play of the game and is guaranteed to deliver. So it was a complete and utter shock when we got to the front of the line and, without even being asked his age, Finn said in a ringing voice: “I’m Finn. My daddy says that I’m five today, but I’m really four.” I’m told that many parents feel like they suck at parenting. But I suspect that I feel that way with a lot more regularity than the average mom.

This time around, when asked to lie about his age, Finn made the play and won the game.  And the win was particularly impressive because Legoland doesn’t station the average carny at the Volvo Driving School.  Only the best and brightest are selected to operate the marquee attraction, and these ringers have clearly been trained that when sufficiently intimidated, a child will always revert to the truth.  Completely ignoring my ingratiating smile, the ride operator crouched down next to Finn and fixed him with a stern expression.  “How old are you, little man?”  But Finn rose to the test.  Motivated by the desire to drive a tiny plastic car, he shouted “I’m six, I’m six!!”  And then, he was off.  To the car of his choice, for two minutes of driving bliss.

As he watched Finn lap the track, Tom’s happy smile said it all.  It was a great day.  I didn’t even lose my composure when some punk kid doused me with a water cannon on a pirate ride at 10:00 AM, completely deflating my carefully voluminized hairdo and soaking my jeans.  Anyone who knows me, knows that there was serious magic that day at Legoland if I was able to enjoy the day despite looking like I had swum to the park from Japan.  But ultimately, I just didn’t have the heart to ruin the day for Tom.  He had planned and organized, and for that, I was grateful.  As we left the park with exhausted kids in tow, we looked at each other and locked lips in a passionate kiss.  Victory gets us hot, and we’d done it—we’d won Legoland.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bloody Hilarious! Thank you – made me laugh out loud lots of times, most of all at the parking – can totally relate. You did well to bite your tongue and last the 17 adult years waiting!

    July 21, 2012
  2. How exciting! I just missed taking my son to see a Lego Colleseum (sp?) at the Ancient History Museum at the University of Sydney. He would LOVE to go to Legoland!

    July 20, 2012
  3. Lego-what? With a bub on the way I think I need to back-read…

    July 18, 2012
  4. Once again, I came, I read, I laughed out loud.

    By the way, I’m not bragging (okay I kinda am) but two weeks ago I went to NYC with my oldest child. After years of shitty family vacations, I finally got one to my liking. Just me, my 19-year-old, and everything that is uber-cool about Manhattan. Be patient, dear Oona. It gets better.

    July 18, 2012
    • Your oldest child is a girl child, no? I have a feeling that makes a difference in how fun future trips to NYC will be. But maybe not. Anyway, thanks for giving hope, Joan

      July 18, 2012
  5. “I’m Finn. My daddy says that I’m five today, but I’m really four.” I love this and I’m laughing at the way you would have had to cope stuck in the line, and if you are me, blushing and suddenly stuck dumb. Still laughing.

    July 18, 2012
    • it was really terrible. there were a bunch of other lawyers standing around dropping their kids off. i learn every lesson the hard way

      July 18, 2012
  6. Loved this! I find this sick pleasure reading about families going on these little missions with kids in tow. Ours is five and we are putting off the legoland trip for another few months i think.

    July 17, 2012
    • five is a good age. i think seven would almost be too old. tate is not yet three and even he was able to ride many of the rides at 36 inches tall. i will note that they check your kid’s height at every ride, they seem fanatical about it. online you can find the height requirements for all the rides

      July 18, 2012
      • Oh goodness, thanks for that! I will bear that in mind. Our girl is so tall for her age, I am sure she will pass the test. Good to have that in mind though, reminds me I have to measure again any day now.

        July 20, 2012
  7. Min #

    “The closest thing I can compare it to is bringing your Benihana Chef’s Table membership card with you when you go to Benihana on your birthday.” LOL. This was, once again, a great read. Thanks!

    July 17, 2012
    • i have a weakness for food that is prepared in front of me by chefs who can make volcanoes out of rings of onion. i squeal like a little girl, clap my hands, the whole thing

      July 18, 2012
  8. kingmidget #

    Great piece. A veteran of two trips to Legoland, I can attest that an early arrival wasn’t necessary. One of the best things about the place is how uncrowded it is compared to other amusement parks. It’s perfect for younger kids.

    July 16, 2012
    • i have been telling everyone i know that i cannot imagine a better park for young boys. it was well laid-out and the rides were manageable. i’m a legoland fan

      July 18, 2012
  9. that photo of you guys in the empty parking lot is HILARIOUS. and the baby sobbing on a tiny plastic train…stick a fork in me…gut wrenching in a hilarious sort of way. i’m neither married nor a parent, but there’s so much humanity and humor in your writing that i just find it irresistible. thanks for the monday chuckles. i’ll try not to turn into a stalker, but…i can’t really guarantee anything. 🙂

    July 16, 2012
    • how delightful. glad you found something here that you like. and i’m very pro-stalker

      July 16, 2012
  10. Meredith J #

    Excellent! We made the San Diego trip over spring break. Alexa went to far as to get in the track on the little cars and refused to get in sending us out the gate after waiting who knows how long. Is a Seaworld blog coming too???

    July 16, 2012
    • we didn’t even try for sea world, meredith. which was good, because after the safari park i was done with outings. poor alexa (and mom)! we put tate on the baby train (it just loops in a circle) and he sobbed the entire way like we’d put him on space mountain. these parks are an education for the entire family, right?

      July 16, 2012

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