Monday, March 15, 2010

A Rainy Day in Connecticut

I was foolish enough to make yet a third pilgrimage from Tampa Bay to Connecticut during the winter season now concluding, and so an outing with the boy seemed a good idea.  Accordingly, Les and I ventured out with Kellan to Kid City, a museum-cum-jungle gym in Middletown.  Two grandfathers and one five-year-old boy: hardly a fair fight.

Picture a hundred over-adrenalized kids under six, swapping mucous and microbes while creating memorable experiences of a sort.  Athletic-looking dads of another generation (X, maybe Y) were dropping in their traces trying to track the little darlings from venue to venue within Kid City itself: the pirate ship, the music room, the alien spaceship, that sort of thing.  Kellan promptly lit out for the fish processing plant.

What does it take to mesmerize dozens of kids of mixed ages, races, cultures and stages of potty training?  About a thousand rubber fish, baskets sufficient to contain more fish than one kid can carry, and a network of quasi-industrial conveyor belts, slides, sorting tables and black holes, that’s what.  In twenty minutes of merry mayhem, Kellan hauled more fish than Ishmael ever did on the Pequod.  Les and I stood aside.

The strategy at these places is to set them loose and observe from as far away as will allow you to effect a rescue should one of the little darlings, yours especially, clothesline himself on a safety railing or take a bad fish hit.  (Overheard – “Latasha, don’t throw that fish; you could put someone’s eye out.”)  Kid City is cleverly partitioned so budding Great-Escapers are throttled through a parent orifice before they can achieve effective freedom.  Responsible parents and the occasional unsuspecting grandparent move from one strategic orifice to the next at a leisurely pace, while the objects of their affection bounce around in each venue like so many smiling, snotty-nosed pinballs.

Les and I differ in some basic philosophies of grandfathering.  I am content to see Kellan have fun and have him associate the experience in some nebular way with my presence.  I think of this as threshold bonding.  Do it often enough, and you enter the kingdom of the beloved.  An unscheduled ice cream stop has a similar effect and is a lot more direct.  When my own children were children I sometimes bonded using a simple five-dollar bill: Want the money?  Express some sincere filial affection and it’s yours. (That still works, by the way.)  I’ve never felt any guilt over that.

Les, God bless him, wants to actually observe the little guy in his bliss.  So while I angle for the strategic orifices, Les ventures fearlessly (or at least he looks fearless) into the fray, putting himself in the trajectory of the rubber fishes, peering – sometimes actually crawling – into low-ceilinged igloos and alien vessels, and darting under mainsails and bronze gongs.  Les, I think from my safe strategic orifice, can I get you an aspirin? 

Kellan is in five-year-old Nirvana.  Having fun here in the open-heart surgery room, buddy?  Oh yeah.  Let’s go back to the fish room.

Even with one’s energy conservation stratagem operating perfectly, 45 minutes of Kid City is about all mortal man would be able to tolerate on his own. Mortal mothers are somewhat more durable, in my experience. Luckily, Les doubles the coverage and lowers the stakes a little.  But after an hour-plus, I see him flagging dangerously.  Serves him right for climbing onto that poopdeck.

Whoever designed this place had his head securely attached.  It turns out an hour and a half is time enough for any kid to see everything, handle every germ-laden plastic fish twice, and begin to grasp the concept of diminishing returns.  The attractions are not powerful enough to drive most little ones – with some stunningly noisy exceptions – to floor-flopping exhaustion before the frenzy runs down.  And so, as Kellan begins to pinball a bit more slowly, I nod to Les and whisper the magic word.  “McDonald’s?”


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