I have spent the last two days at a water theme park with the kids, thinking about death.
It’s sort of unfair, isn’t it, that you can’t know what kind of legacy you will leave until you die, so you will never really know what kind of legacy you will leave behind? This idea had been in my head for a few days, ever since post-playdate banter with another parent somehow led to me performing a poor man’s soft shoe shuffle, at which point I announced, “What I’ll really be remembered for, after I’m dead and gone, is my dancing.” [Note: that is not what I will be remembered for, at least not fondly.]
That joking aside led to some more serious wondering these last two days. Both mornings I have been in a car with four girls, ages ten to twelve, all chattering and bantering with excitement. I learn a lot about Top 40 radio on these trips—more than I need to know, really, but I keep reminding myself I made my mother listen to WPLJ and WNEW in the car, even though she may not have heard the brilliance in “Fat Bottomed Girls” that I did. Now that I am the adult doing the driving I adhere to the guidelines of chauffeur, allowing myself to make just a few comments about the music (yes, the new Taylor single is better than the others, because there’s some melody this time), and self-editing negative reactions (um, you like Coldplay because you hear variety in their song? I mean, songs?).
I braved a few rides the first morning of our water park doubleheader, but spent the rest of the time trying to find a shady spot to read and watching humanity. A theme park is a great equalizer in many ways—only a small portion of us over the age of twenty look appealing in bathing suits, and even fewer look good after a few hours outside in Georgia in June—but it also works as a symbol of our multi-tiered society. There are the people who can afford to throw down for private cabanas, tucked under large shade trees and served by well-coiffed staff, and others who walk around all day with their own private inner tubes, clinging to big plastic circles stamped RENTAL way in the same a Southern matriarch would show off her pearls. And let’s not forget the villainous Fast Pass holders, who walk down impossibly empty lanes to cut you off, just as your own wait is about to end.
The park recently added a new income level when it blocked off a prime section of chairs, creating a V.I.P. seating area; reserve 24 hours ahead of time, please. This led to one of the loudest shouting matches I heard, between a large family that arrived after lunch and a poorly paid employee. The mother had taken a chair from behind the V.I.P. rope, and the employee was trying to get her to return it.
“You’re saying I can’t have this chair?”
“Why? Someone else was using it?”
“No, ma’am, it’s just—”
“Oh, so, I’m not good enough for this chair?”
“No, ma’am, it’s just—”
“I pay all this money, and I don’t even get a chair?”
“Not this chair, ma’am.”
I kept my head buried in my book and admired the teen employee’s calm. Maybe that’s why he was stuck this assignment—he was too good at it. Finally the woman’s son said a few words to her, and the chair was allowed to be moved back to the elite land of V.I.P. What would the kid remember about this day at the water park? The rides he rode with his brothers and sisters, or his mother screaming about a chair?
That question was still on my mind a few hours later, when I witnessed another mother screaming, this time at her own child, a boy of seven or eight. He was in charge of his little sister, who looked to be five or six, but as the family walked by the wave pool the girl had gone to stick her foot in. The mother was furious, even though the little girl was well within sight. Holding a paper basket of chicken fingers and fries in one hand, she waved the other in front of the boy as she raised her voice louder and louder. How irresponsible! How careless! Couldn’t she count on him for anything? What was he thinking? The woman sent him off after his sister, and then, for good measure, screamed the girl’s name loudly.
I averted my eyes. The boy was not in physical danger, at least not in public, and I didn’t want him to get blamed later by their mother if I said anything to her. As much as I did not approve of what was happening, I did understand the urge. When our kids were younger, and I was even more tired and stressed, I gave in more to the urge to shout more than I would like to admit. Never to the same degree, but certainly words were said much more loudly than they needed to be. The urge to do something takes control, and convinces your brain you can just talk over the irrational being standing in front of you and screaming about cookies—look how much smaller they are! Luckily, I had a sort of out-of-body experience one day, and saw myself leaning down in anger. It felt like I was having a heart attack, and like a stroke survivor, I knew I needed to throw away the Big Mac and the Camels.
After both children had checked in for their scolding, the mother sent them back to [wait for it] the wave pool. I have an idea about what they will remember from this trip to Whitewater.
The drive home is always more quiet than the drive there, but both days I resisted the urge to try and jumpstart conversation; I learned learned long ago that these silent lulls are good for everyone. I played the role of the discrete chauffeur, and kept my eyes on the road and my glances at my passengers to a minimum. As we got closer to home, though, the energy level picked back up. Highlights were relived (“What was the color of the vomit on the Wahoo Racer?”), future plans were made (“Six Flags!”), and more music was debated (I could not keep myself from announcing my distaste for all things Maroon 5).
We dropped off our friends and stumbled into our house. The girls headed off to shower while I marveled at how much heavier and more unpleasant wet towels were than dry. Is that my legacy, an ability to efficiently prepare for, and clean up after, outings with kids? My band was never famous enough, and I was never good enough, to leave behind much of a drum legacy, and while I’m proud of my first novel, I need to get cracking there—one and done doesn’t cut it unless you’re Harper Lee. Then again, there are worse ways to be remembered. All I can recall of my own father is an image from what I think was the last time I saw him, when I was six or seven: a bearded man sitting at a folding table, pouring a beer into a tall glass. It might as well be an out-take from a movie I have never seen, and at least I can be certain my own kids will retain more than that.
They’ll have my dancing.