On Learning the Art of Theme Parking.

On Friday morning of our two mom/five kid adventure, we sat out for our first true undertaking – to Dollywood, the theme park.

I am quite inexperienced at the whole theme park thing – remember Disney? Yeah – they didn’t even let me in the front gate. So I was beyond thankful to discover that Not-Crazy-Renee is actually fantastically adept in the art of theme park planning and navigation.

I mean, I knew she’d done Disney with a baby (something I would never dream of attempting), but she hadn’t told me how good she was. She just quietly researched the park, and when we arrived that morning, she confidently said, “Okay I’ve studied the map and we need to go down Showstreet and through Rivertown Junction to get to County Fair which is where all the rides will be for the kids.”

I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to fully realize that oh yeah – the rides would be separated by age.

Tip #1: If you’re going to do a crazy adventure, make sure that one of the moms is a planner, and has actually successfully gotten her family into and through a theme park.

But her planning started before we even left the hotel, when she borrowed a sharpie from Ali (what nine year old travels without sharpies?) and wrote her phone number on her children’s arms in case of getting lost.

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(I followed up with writing my phone number on my children…slightly smaller, on the inside of their arms, and without the giant “MOM”. But nobody ever accused Not-Crazy-Renee of not being bold. Remember the Neighborhood Package Thief?)

The phone number thing really was brilliant, and all the other moms at Dollywood kept commenting at our preparedness. However, it’s been five days and my number is still on Noah’s arm. So now it’s beginning to just look like he managed to snag some young lady’s number.

(And if someone saw the way he looks at Loulie, they’d have a pretty good guess of whose phone number he wanted to snag.)

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But Dollywood.

The rides were really fantastic. Teacups were a big hit,

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As were the bumper cars.
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Some took it more seriously than others.

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The favorite ride, but also the most complex for our outnumberedness, were the elephants.

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Here’s a Theme Park Math Problem For you:

Riders over 48” can ride alone. Riders under 48” must be with a rider that is over 16 years old. The baby in a carrier could not ride. There can only be two riders per elephant. Ali was over 48” and Noah, Jonas, and Loulie were under 48”. Plus, one adult had to stay off to hold Joshua, the baby. How many rounds had to be ridden to let everyone have a turn?

The answer is three, and the bonus answer is that Ali got three turns each time we rode the elephants (Perks for being the oldest.)

1. Adult/Noah, Ali
2. Adult/Jonas, Ali
3. Adult/Loulie, Ali

Thankfully, there were no lines that day, so this was relatively easy to accomplish. But since Elephants were the favorite, we ran this triple circuit multiple times. And sometimes, the kids waiting for their turn actually had a good attitude.

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(By the way, Noah was BARELY under 48”. If he’d been over 48”, everything would’ve been easier. Tip #2 from Not-Crazy-Renee The Theme Park Expert: I should’ve glued a one-inch foam wedge to the bottom of his shoes. I want to go back to Dollywood this weekend just to try this BRILLIANT plan.)

At first, due to my Theme Park Status of ignoramus, I was completely confused by all the different height requirements, number-per-ride requirements, and height-measuring poles. But then I began to appreciate it, because there was a ride for every situation.

Jonas got to drive a car:

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Loulie and Ali were able to ride a small roller coaster alone:

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And everyone was allowed to ride in the Bumblebee and a couple other rides alone, even Jonas and a VERY proud Noah:

IMG_4571I’ve still got the Bumblebee song stuck in my head.

We spent the majority of Friday at Dollywood, until my stamina gave out first.

We’d been awarding everyone’s good attitudes on the trip with Lego Bucks, so we stopped at the gift shops on the way out of the park for an energy pick-me-up, distributing swords and candy to the children, and delicious truffle-things to the mothers (because I am telling you we EARNED ourselves some Lego Bucks.)

IMG_4567Why yes, Noah is auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Why do you ask?

As we left, I asked Renee how much of the park we’d accomplished in our many hours there. She said about one eighth of the park. One eighth! That made me want to go back without the kids to do the other seven eighths, mostly more intense rides. But it was pretty amazing that there was a whole day’s worth of rides they could ride – it made the concept of theme parking with kids so much more doable.

(I’ve always been a little scared of theme parks. But now I know. If I can do it with two adults and five kids, I can TOTALLY do it with Chris and just my kids.)

The next day, before heading back home, we went to the Waterpark. I was even more skeptical that this would work – The odds were ever NOT in our favor.

But they had three full kid areas, plus a lazy river and wave pool.

Kid area #1 (Little Creek Falls) had two mild slides that the three oldest kids could do alone (even my very risk averse Noah (who won’t even go down the slide at the YMCA pool) went right up and did it – no coaxing required!)

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Kid Area #2 (Bear Mountain Fire Tower) was a bit more intense – there was water squirting at every angle, and a giant bucket that doused the entire play area every few minutes. I was shocked my kids were up for this one, but they were – we had to drag them out.

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Kid Area #3, The Cascades, was the best kid area in my opinion – it was bigger, yet more laid back and quieter, but still had a couple great slides.IMG_4544

One of the slides was perfect for Ali to take Jonas on, a treat that they both loved.

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We chilled for a while at the wave pool,

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Which proved to be a perfect Dippin’ Dots / Cotton Candy break for everyone.

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Renee and I also each took a turn taking Loulie and Ali on a big raft waterslide – a slide that had way too much adrenaline potential for Noah.

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But the real adventure came, ironically, at The Lazy River.

Oh, I wish there were pictures.

We had decided we could do it – Renee could hold Joshua, I could hold Jonas, and the other three could be on their own floats. But the waterfall was loud and the river was somewhat crowded – and I couldn’t figure out how to sit on my float, be able to steer, and hold a two-year-old upright. I followed Expert Renee’s lead and hefted one leg up over the float, balanced Jonas on that leg, and left the other leg hanging down with which to steer, looking very much like Leg Lamp Boat Rudder. I wasn’t sure if my legs would ever go together again.

Meanwhile, Noah decided that a REALLY FUN GAME to play on the Lazy River would be (he didn’t name it this but he might as well have ) “The Drowning Game”, where he kept flipping over backwards in the middle of his float, flailing just below the water level (even though he could totally touch), allowing a couple of seconds to go by, then jumping out of the water laughing hysterically.

And no matter how hard I tried, I could NOT get him to quit playing this game.

We took two laps around because it had taken us the time of three laps to get into the river, so we couldn’t quit at one.

Tip #3: If you are grossly outnumbered by your children, leave the Lazy River to the happy romantic couples who are only dreaming of creating offspring. No need to show them what that dream actually looks like.

Aside from the Lazy River adventures, though, the waterpark was a smashing success. Everyone had a place they could play at a level they were comfortable, we stayed for six hours and the kids would’ve stayed longer, and we left with the same number of children we possessed upon arrival.

We threw everyone into dry clothes, doled out iPads and headphones, and started the journey back to Birmingham, enjoying the lovely view of worn-out, silent, double-screening children.

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And we congratulated ourselves. Because we were CLEARLY rock stars.

(With an honorable mention to Ali, who was crazy helpful and much needed all weekend. Tip #4: Don’t travel without a kind and happy-to-help oldest child.)

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We were sure to give her many reading breaks and covertly sneaky treats that the other kids never saw. We made being the oldest totally worth her trouble.

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A couple days after returning home, Noah called me into his room to show me what he and his Daddy had built the night before at bedtime.

“Look Mom, it’s a time Machine. See? You turn this wheel and you can go back in time.”

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“Cool! Where are you going to go back in time to? Or are you going to go to the future?”

“Oh I am definitely going back to Dollywood!”

I’d call that a successful adventure.

Not-Crazy-Renee And The Dollywood Adventure.

A couple of weeks ago when we were on our way home from our beach trip, during the window of “Last Hour of the Road Trip Home” which has a very strict rule of “No serious conversations because we WILL get snippy with each other”, I got a text from my dear friend and neighbor, Not-Crazy-Renee.

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She continued to explain to me that she would like for me to possibly go on a road trip with her – to Maine. Which would take two 10 hour days to get there, it would include a stay for about three days, and then two 10 hour days to get back.

Just me and her. Oh – and our five kids.

Although her timing on asking me to go on an epic road trip was super poor, I was still intrigued. Because Maine. And scenery. And adventure.

So I inquired further.

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Despite how well I know the little-bit-crazy parts of not-crazy Renee, the ludicrous INSANITY of “can you leave 16 hours from now and put in an entire workweek in the car with five children even though you’re not home yet from your last road trip?” just stunned me.

Yet I was STILL slightly interested. Because I’m a glutton for adventure. However, our family had already made plans for the upcoming weekend and there was just no possible way to make it work. But I had been promising Not-Crazy-Renee that I’d road trip with her all summer, so I re-upped that promise and determined in my heart to make it come true – sooner rather than later.

And so I began to look around and plan – where could we take five children and not hate ourselves for it? Where could children the ages of 9, 5, 5, 2, and 9 months all have fun and not make us lose our Mommy Poop? We discussed this at length.

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After considering many options and trying to optimize all the components to making our complex situation actually fun, we landed on Dollywood – the DreamMore Resort and the theme parks. And ironically, our plans didn’t fully come together until the day before we were supposed to leave. So at least I also provided that feeling of thrill and panic that she had attempted to give me with her Maine proposal. And on top of that, both our husbands were going out of town, so if nothing else, we were saving ourselves from Daddyless weekends at home.

We left Thursday morning, bracing ourselves for exhaustion, screaming children, and hating life. The odds were NOT ever in our favor. But we started out knowing we were rock stars, because we packed seven people for two nights this amazingly lightly:

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We were already winners.

The car trip went shockingly well, thanks to half a dozen screens. Twenty minutes before we arrived, reveling in the fact that no one had cried or even whined, we started to get hopeful. Maybe we could actually handle and maybe even enjoy this adventure we’d gotten ourselves into.

Ten minutes before we arrived, the screaming began. One kid started crying, one kid started screaming because the other kid was crying, two kids began whining and covering their ears, and we began our Lamaze breathing. Childbirth ain’t got nothing on a minivan full of screaming children.

But we arrived, and they were immediately distracted from their whining by the glory that lay before us.

“WHOA! Are we staying in a castle?!?”

“Yes, yes we are.”

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They squealed with delight and couldn’t wait to explore their new kingdom.

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One of the first things they noticed was the recurring theme of butterflies. It became a game to count how many different places butterflies were featured in the hotel, all the way down to the toilet paper monogram.

Another feature helped the kids remember why the name Dolly Parton sounded familiar to them: the Imagination Library. Her book benches featured some of the best books she sends in that free program – including the first book, The Little Engine that Could.

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On that first night, they were fully entertained by just exploring. The hotel, the playground, the fire pits around the pool (we didn’t make s’mores but it was fun to see other people doing it), the barn, and this old truck, which made for some pretty epic photos for Noah and Loulie’s future wedding slideshow.

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(Obviously, this part of the slideshow will need to be played to the tune of “I Will Always Love You” in deference to Dolly, who provided these magical moments.)

But magic or no, the injury list didn’t take long to start piling up. Within two hours of arriving, one kid had rolled off a bed, and another kid had stuck their fingers into the opening elevator crack and panicked as they watched their fingers being sucked in.

(If this ever happens to you, yank hard on said kid’s hand. It will rip free with all fingers in tact and a much higher respect for elevator safety.)

Our rooms were beyond ideal for our situation. We couldn’t have done what we did without the fantastic layout. We had two adjoining rooms, each with a bunk room and a separate king bedroom.

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So at the end of each night, each family had their own kid room and their own Mommy Room. Granted, Renee had to share her room with the baby, but Joshua was by far the easiest guest of the weekend. How could you not want to share with this face??

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And if that weren’t enough, I had a sunset view from my bed. Clearly Dolly designed her hotel with me in mind.

View-from-Dreammore-ResortYes of course I posed them for this picture. They were way too busy playing to care about sunsets.

I even took sunset pictures out the window – and Dolly cleaned her windows well enough that they came out like this.

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The resort had Dolly memorabilia in every part, which led to many interesting conversations about her. Such as this philosophical conversation I had with Ali:

“So is Wood not her last name?”

“Who?”

“Dolly.”

“No! It’s Parton.”

“Oh.”

“She just owns the place so she named it Dollywood…kinda like Hollywood.”

“So a woman named Holly owns Hollywood?”

Makes sense to me.

As for Renee and I, we were quickly realizing that outnumberedness, along the number of very small children, meant that every moment of our trip was going to require a quick “okay, what’s our strategy?” conversation.

How will we get our bags in?
How will we get food?
How will we get this poopy diaper changed?
How can I go pee?

(I know that there are many families with five or more kids that probably live their whole life in strategy-mode, and I appreciate those people all the more after this weekend.)

There was a lot of “okay you take those three, I’ll take these two” and “can you watch this one for a second?” and even more of, to the children, “Do NOT tell us what you want to do. We’re here to have fun. We’ll make sure you have fun. Don’t. Ask. For. Anything.”

(That didn’t work. OBVIOUSLY.)

But despite their constant requests to do ALL THE THINGS ALL AT ONCE, thanks to Dolly and the joy of being with each other, the kids had an incredible time.


Next time, we talk about our adventures at the Theme Parks. Yes, you heard me right. We took five kids to 
more than one theme park. So don’t call us wusses.

How PokemonGo Will Make Your Momming Better.

As I purposefully shy away from trends and adamantly avoid hopping on bandwagons, I was ripe to avoid PokemonGo completely.

But I saw potential. Potential for entertained kids and interesting hikes.

I mean, I’m pretty dang good at making hikes interesting. Sometimes we even find abandoned boobs! But despite how AMAZING I am, and despite the fact that they (almost) always enjoy it, my kids still whine and groan every time I say we’re going on a hike or a walk.

Sure it’s July in Alabama and 456 degrees outside. But still. Exercise makes Mommy feel better, kids. Get on board.

So. PokemonGo.

I downloaded the free app Monday morning. Noah was already downstairs but Ali had yet to emerge from her room. I told Noah, “Oh look! There’s a Pokemon in our front yard! Let’s go out and catch it.”

We ran outside and sure enough, there on my phone screen, we could see the front yard and a Pokemon sitting in it.

I hadn’t read any directions or helpful posts about how to catch Pokemon yet, so we failed miserably on our first hunt. Noah lost interest and wandered away to complain about breakfast options, and I sat down to read a Wiki.

OOOOHH….you swipe quickly with your finger. I can do this.

So I gathered Noah again and we went outside and caught ourselves a Pokemon.

After breakfast, I told the kids.

“We’re going on a Pokemon Hunt. Get your shoes on.”

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Noah was thrilled, but Ali was skeptical. Usually my less whiny child, she had a problem with everything on this stroll. It was hot. It smelled bad outside. Where were the Pokemon? How long would this walk take?

Until.

We found our first Pokemon.

And she was the one who caught it.

Then it became the best walk we’d ever taken.

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There were none on our street, but Not-Crazy-Renee’s street was teeming with them.

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In fact, they seemed congregated around her house – perhaps they were attracted to her snake.

We came, we caught, and Noah even wore a couple Pokemon.

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And it really was the most delightful neighborhood walk we’d ever taken.

Ali, Now PokemonGo’s biggest fan, began naming all the places she wanted to go hunt.

I bet Oak Mountain has 223 Pokemon! Oh! And Aldridge Gardens! There are plenty of places to look there. And Pop and Gramamma’s house. We could find all kinds of Pokemon in their woods!

We decided on Gramamma’s house. It would be a family service, after all, to help her with her Pokemon Infestation.

So we drove out and took Gramamma on a hike, teaching her about the game as we traversed.

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See, you keep the app on your home screen, and it knows where you are, and you can click on the bottom right corner to see how close you’re getting to a Pokemon, and then when one shows up, you see it on the screen in the real world, and you’ve got to throw the ball at it to capture it.

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We found the ever-frightening Zubat,

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Ali slapped a Nidoran,

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Gramamma got viciously attacked by the butt end of a Slowpoke,

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And Shadow went after,

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And then carried away, a Charmander.

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We even checked the bridge – just to make sure it wasn’t covered in the monsters, you know.

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While on the hike, we found real, live, actual cool things as well, thereby making it totally educational.

Colorful spiders,

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Mushrooms,

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And the ever-charismatic Lady of the Corn.

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Anyone want to steal a veggie or two from her?

In total, we found another dozen or so at my parent’s house, therefore saving their property from the perils of loose Pokemon.

On the way home, we saw a PokeSpot and a PokeGym on the map, so we pulled off to get special rewards.

And, in the process, discovered the Alabama Veteran’s War Memorial.

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And our PokemonGo experience became even more educational.

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We talked about all the names and what they meant…

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And why no, we could not take any of the flags. Geez kids.

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And of course, when Chris got home, the first thing the kids wanted to do was go on a walk – to teach him how to play.

And so. In our first day’s journey of Pokemon catching, we:

– Hiked/walked a total of 5 miles four different places without a SINGLE KID COMPLAINT (at least after the first Pokemon was bagged.)

– Made it to Level 6 and joined Team Valor.

– Saw all kinds of actual nature (including a rabbit, too fast to be pictured.)

– Visited and learned about the Alabama War Memorial.

– Caught 53 Pokemon on my phone – I don’t know how many Chris caught.

– Took turns catching said Pokemon and cheered ridiculously loudly for each other when a successful catch was made.

– Ran my phone battery down four times. External chargers are a nice asset for heavy Pokemon hunting.

– Only tripped while staring at the phone screen a couple times. Each.

– And one fantastic diary entry was created via Ali, an entry that should be able to help if you’re still unsure how to play.

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Well, you get the picture.

You’re welcome, Moms of the world. Your summer just got exceedingly better.

Love,

Rachel