10 Life Lessons from Amusement Parks
The pinkish-gold hues of sunrise over the water is enough to make anyone pause a moment to soak in the beauty. The natural world is full of such beauty. White blossoming crepe myrtle and bamboo trees grow in our yard, along with a hibiscus plant. There are lots of Spanish moss trees growing everywhere here; the other day, I drove for 18 miles down a rural road where the branches from weeping Spanish moss trees bridged over the road. I felt like I was in a deep Southern movie scene. Natural beauty like this is a gift because, if we can see it, it can remind us that we are surrounded by more than the hardships of everyday life.
We are doubly fortunate because we are surrounded not only by an array of natural beauty, but also by various amusement parks. Alight loves roller coasters, and Breathe enjoys being out in the sunshine. We visited Busch Gardens yesterday, again, in scorching heat. Actual temperature was 97 degrees, but the heat index put us at 103. Hot. It was a special kind of hot. The heat ended up wiping us out after just three hours. As I’ve felt pretty sentimental for the last month or so, I drove away from the park writing a mental list of the life lessons, some frivolous and others not, that we could learn from amusement parks.
10. Preparation is Worth It
Alight’s intolerance to the heat is well known. When she was younger, she got sick at the zoo because she got too hot. At day camp, she lasted half a day before telling the counselor she was going to walk to me (I was waiting in the car). So, heat is a thing. Half-joking, she said, “You need that water backpack. You need that fan. You need that bucket hat and sunglasses and you need to know where the medic office is for an ice pack.”
She’s right. Preparing for heat will help you tolerate it better. But, also, things like: downloading the app so you can know the wait times of your most desired ride, utilizing the map so you don’t do unnecessary walking, and looking at the menus so you don’t get sticker shock at the price for lunch will all help you avoid confusion when you get to the parks. Life is the same way. Taking the time to research things helps me plan and that helps me better enjoy the small moments of every day. I used to schedule our days out by the hour because I didn’t want to waste time. As the girls got older, and started having more say in our activities, the schedules became more loose. Because…
9. Expect the Unexpected
Sometimes that ride you came for specifically…. is closed. Or has a three hour wait. Or didn’t appear as scary on videos and pictures as it does in real life. Sometimes tired and hot strangers say unkind things. Sometimes you get stuck on rides. Sometimes you forget where you parked and wander around parking lot C for nearly an hour because the day has left your mind foggy. Whatever. Something unexpected almost certainly will happen.
I could go on about this one for awhile. Because no amount of preparation will be able to prevent unexpected disasters from striking your family. You can exercise every day. You can eat healthy. You can be a prayer warrior. And you are still not immune to life-threatening diseases, to the death of loved ones, to someone you love choosing to leave. The unexpected will find you. To cope, you need….
8. Adaptability is key.
Being able to take the unexpected and make the most of it will go a long way to saving a day. When I can’t find the car, I can get worried or stressed, angry or agitated but that will likely rub off on my girls so, instead, I could play Lost and pretend it’s the last adventure of the day. When people are unkind, I use it to think about their day and why they might feel upset enough to lash out at someone they don’t know. In life, every day is a lesson in being adaptable. The more adaptable I am, the better control I maintain over my emotions. I cannot always choose what happens to me, but I can control my reaction to those events. This helps me be intentional.
7. Face your fears.
I like steel roller coasters. The Hangman, where your feet are dangling as you do a couple of 360s, was a lot of fun. I like them, Alight loves them. But Breathe hates them. They make her dizzy and they are scary. Still, she never complains; she will always ride. She’s ridden rides I never expected her to get on. She’s ridden rides that make me nervous. And she’s done it because she’s protective of Alight; she doesn’t want her to ride alone. She faces her fears with a courage that I only hope to have—and, in the end, she comes out proud of herself and a tiny bit more confident in herself to overcome hard things. Her caring more about her sister than about avoiding scary things will help her become that much stronger when life throws scary things at her.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It’s ultimate purpose is to hold me back. When I am fear asking for help, Fear is trying to keep me isolated and alone. When I fear taking a promotion, Fear is trying to convince me I’m not worthy or smart enough. Fear is powerful. But knowing that fear is really just trying to keep me from growing is a powerful motivator to overcoming it. When I do the hard things, as long as it isn’t physically or emotionally hurting me or anyone else, I usually end up becoming stronger. If I don’t face my fears, it will always be there, holding me back.
6. Ride the Rides.
Amusement parks are designed to be immersive. They are designed to be used. If I go just as a chaperone who doesn’t ride the rides or play the games, but, instead, just walks around in the heat with the others… I’m missing out. Only by riding the rides and playing the games will I really be able to understand the pull of the park. Similarly, if, in life, I don’t actively attempt to achieve goals or to create the life I dream of, I’m choosing to allow time to push me along until I stop caring. Ultimately, our lives are what we create. We all face the same fork in the roads, the same moments in time where monumental life decisions have to be made. Did I make those based on what I wanted or did I allow others to craft my life for me?
5. Take a time out.
This morning, when I saw the golden sunrise, it felt like time sort of froze for a minute. In that moment of suspended time, nothing bothered me. The responsibilities that weighed my heart seemed gone, at least for a moment. It didn’t matter what I needed to do or what was waiting for me the rest of that day—what mattered was soaking up the golden sunrise. Amusement parks offer the same opportunity to escape reality for a few hours and to focus on what really matters: family, friends—our “tribe.” The trick is to slow down long enough to see it: I had to stop for a minute to look at the sunrise, to soak it up, and we have to be okay with being unplugged, to not be distracted by anything other than our people for the time at the park. Escaping is a defense mechanism; it only works because it is used briefly, a day or two here or there, to help me catch my breath and feel refreshed so that I have all my energy to do another normal day. These mini time outs that are offered to us by vacations and amusement parks are like coffee: they give our hearts a restart button. But only if we stay focused on the positive moments, on the smiles and the wins, rather than the uncomfortableness of surviving an amusement park.
4. Patience pays.
Amusement park coasters are notorious for their lines. Forty-minutes is a steal. An hour is decent. Anything above that and you start mentally weighing the pros and cons, right? Is it worth giving up two hours for a ride that lasts two minutes? The only way to really know this is to know your people and what matters to them. A five year old would likely give up two hours to meet her favorite princess while a ten year old wouldn’t care about meeting characters but would give up more than 2 hours for a Star Wars experience. For Alight, the answer is: an impressive coaster is worth it. And that’s true with most things in life. The most important things are usually not ones that happen right away; patience is required. But when you are soaring weightless on a coaster and the only thought in your head is how fast you are going—the two hours’ wait time is forgotten. The mother who has to wait nine months to hold her child will tell you moments after feeling that baby’s finger curl around hers that she’d go through pregnancy and labor again in a heartbeat. Patience is also a character trait. Those who are able to stay calm under pressure, who are able to shrug off the little things, are more likely able to endure the heat longer, outlast the lines and reap the reward of a conquering that ride than the ones who can’t.
3. Details delight.
Disney is famous for hiding Mickeys all over their parks. If you know this, you almost instinctively start looking for them. This helps you see parts of the parks others miss, and you feel a little burst of joy when you spot a new one. Other parks have similar plays. The names of the menu items, for instance, or the hidden statues. Even if it’s not hidden, paying attention to the details that surround you will often enhance a visit to the amusement park. Most rides have a theme or a storyline you can infer through signage and colors; imaging the story can make the rides that much more intense.
Similarly, the real world is full of details. Noticing body language can tell you so much about how someone is feeling, for example. Paying attention to what someone writes on a consistent basis can give insight into their hearts. Falling in love isn’t a one time firework explosion: falling in love is a process made up of small conversations, glances and meaningful interactions unique to those two people. Divorce is usually the same thing. Slowing down to notice the details around us makes us more in tune with our lives and what matters. The details can surprise, delight and inform us.
2. Be silly.
The Disney character Gaston has gone viral more than once for being silly. Kids leap and talk ninety miles an hour nonstop. At an amusement park, there are people walking around in costumes. There are people painting faces. The thing is—being silly matters. Being silly makes you—and others—feel joy. And joy is a life preserver. Taking the time to be silly makes life an adventure and can make us more authentic by relaxing us. When we are silly, we enjoy life more. Being silly matters.
1. Make the Memories.
Saying yes to that sugary icee in the $18 souvenir cup that lights up because that “yes” may be part of what our child remembers. Saying yes to riding that ride because that ugly photo of you crying moments before going upside down may not only help you conquer a fear, but also will show the kids you are in it with them. The thing is that every day, and every moment, is a memory in the making. Tonight, we are seeing fireworks and an “electric ocean.” We are hot. We are parched. We are tired. But we are making memories that are priceless. Memories that teach each other that our people are more important than work, more important than “likes” or social media, more important than the stress that accompanies responsibility. And that is worth it all.