Summer fun can be a killer.
Each year, my parents leave their home down south (they're in their sixties, so they've moved to Florida. It's the law) and slowly drive north to Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, visiting various relatives. We call it The East Coast Tour. Last week, they stopped at Chez Daddy Daze.
We see each other only when the tour bus comes to town (or rather, the orange Chevy Aveo), so we pack as much fun as possible into each visit. Of course, after a few days of all that "fun," the kids are exhausted and temperamental. Add a few consecutive late nights to the mix and you've got two volatile toddlers. Thus, the waning days of The East Coast Tour can be, to say the least, unpleasant.
Take, for example, last Wednesday's outing to play mini golf.
There's a new course about a mile from our house, so we all drove down after dinner. My parents and I hyped the event in the car, and by the time we arrived the kids were frenzied. Then I saw the sign.
We discussed our options. Tensions mounted in the booster seat.
"Why aren't we getting out?" Grace asked.
"Oh, this mini golf is closed," I said.
"WHAT?!?" She sounded as if someone had just kicked her dog.
"We're going to go to another course, hon," I said. Grace scowled but said nothing.
I did the same.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at another course. I parked the car facing the joint's big, artificial waterfall. Everyone's mood had improved — until I saw that it would cost $50 for the six of us to play (at least the place offered a "complimentary" squirt of bug repellant. Gee, could you spare it?). I ponied up — anything to keep the kids even-keeled. William was swinging his club around and Grace was checking out the Koi pond. We were back on track.
At the first hole, I explained the game to Grace: Knock the ball into the hole with the club. She and her brother preferred placing their balls about an inch off the hole and hitting them in, which was kind of cute.
Then I had another bright idea. "Here," I said to Grace, "let me show you how to hold the club so it'll be a little easier for you." Gracie let out a scream that nearly split my skull in half and threw herself, flailing, to the ground.
"Gracie," I said, "What is the problem?!?" She howled louder. I said, "You need to talk to me the right way without screaming."
She composed herself and babbled something about the yellow ball and the blue ball and blah, blah, blah — she was speaking that Furious Toddler Language that makes no sense to anyone over 7, so naturally, I had no clue what the problem was.
In her thrashing, she had hooked William's leg with her club and pulled him right down, so he was screaming, too.
Grace's poor behavior persisted, so I issued the final warning: "Keep it up, and we're going home." Just a few holes later, she again screamed, threw her club, and hurled herself to the ground (something about the order in which we were hitting balls).
Time to follow-through, Dad.
I scooped her little ass up, plopped her, screaming and kicking, in the car, and drove home. Just abandoned everything right then and there.
How was the rest of the night, you ask? Here's a hint: My wife is downstairs getting the kids in bed while I'm upstairs typing this. Why? Because if I'm around them for just one minute more, I'm going to "go out to the store a minute" and never come back.
I can hear them talking down there now:
"But I want to play golf!"
"I know, Gracie. But you made a bad choice. We'll play again another day."
"Waaaaaa! But why...?"
Ah, the poor kid. I don't blame her. I actually feel kind of guilty… I miss my parents so much when they're gone, and I know they miss their grandchildren even more. I want to make the most of those precious 14 days a year we get to spend as a family, yet I feel badly for setting the kids up for an eventual meltdown. It's a fine line, as they say.
So, I'm sorry, Gracie. I know you're tired and full of sugar. Tomorrow we'll take it easy and play in the yard. Soon The East Coast Tour will leave town, and your dad will go back to missing his own mom and dad.
I don't know which is worse.