My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Trip to Pennsyltucky

Okay, we really went to Pennsylvania, but Dad's called it "Pennsyltucky" so many times over the years, I just had to use the word.

For the last couple of years, we've accompanied the Pipsqueak to the Dutch Wonderland theme park near Lancaster, PA. Last year, Miri's BFF and her mom joined us, and we all had such a good time that this year AJ tried to work out a plan that would include more of our MIT(1) families. Since the kidlings and their folks all have increasingly complex schedules, arrangements dragged on through July, then into August... and after doing a little pre-emptive online research, I had to tell AJ that a decision had to be made NOW or there would be zero hotel accommodations available. (Seems my sister forgot that the last few days before most public school systems started would be a time many other families would try to close out their summers at the attractions in the Lancaster area.)

To make a very long story (plus bunch of emails, texts and phone calls) short, we ended up with the same crew as last year, with Mama N plus 2 hoping to join up with us on the 2nd day.  I spent the next three days becoming increasingly desperate as hotel after hotel showe up online as "no vacancies" or just enough room for half our group, or only having rooms with a single king-size bed. I kept widening my search area and glommed onto the last two appropriate rooms at the Hampton Inn Lancaster, less than ten minutes' drive time from the DW front gate.

To borrow a Pennsylvania Dutch saying, on the day of departure, the hurrieder we went, the beholder we got -- so we got to the hotel about two hours later than planned. (And yes, we had periodic bursts of, "Are we there yet?" from the Pipsqueak. Oh, yes indeedy we did!)  We got our stuff into the rooms as quickly as we could while continuing an ongoing series of text message checks with Mama H and daughter, who thankfully were also running a bit late -- but the timing was right for them to meet us at the park for the free evening preview, so we immediately piled back into AJ's van and headed to the land of DW... where we promptly discovered they were re-engineering the parking lot so it took as long to get from the gate to a parking spot as it had to get from the hotel to the gate.

All odd little glitches aside, we all had a pleasant evening, with Miri and BFF S getting a chance to enjoy many rides, some several times in a row, while I kept the Pipsqueak's grandparents company or tried to catch the goings-on with my camera. (I'm still getting used to the differences between my old camera and its replacement, so I keep doing things like turning it off when trying to find the zoom button.)  I think everyone had the most fun with the Turtle Whirl ride, either riding (multiple times) or watching. There was the usual bargaining in the gift shop on our way out, and then we drove a short distance to the Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn where we all happily stuffed ourselves nearly immobile at the excellent buffet. (Also a repeat from last year.)

I don't know exactly when the girls fell asleep -- or how only two young girls can make so much noise! -- but we all got up in time to have a relatively leisurely breakfast. Of course, Miri & S thought it would be hilarious to avoid Uncle Brian's camera, so I ended up with a lot of pictures like this:

We got some good news as we prepared to return to DW -- Mama N and her two kids were on their way, well within striking distance, so we'd all be able to meet up at the park. Since we had eaten a relatively leisurely breakfast, by the time we got to the park there was actually very little parking available anywhere near the entrance (definitely a problem for our folks, who were having a tough enough time walking from ride to ride). We noticed a small area with a couple of open spots behind one of the main service buildings, and just as AJ finished squeezing her van into the last (tight) spot one of the park's security guides came walking over. I took one look at his face and said, "We're not supposed to be here, are we?" and he laughed and said, "Not really." He then shocked us by going on to explain that someone had forgotten to block off the employee parking area so it wasn't our fault and would probably be OK -- and when we showed him the handicapped placard and said there weren't any HC spots left near the entrance, he made a call on his radio and said not to worry, he'd cleared it with The Boss and we should all go on into the park and have a great time. (Mr. Dutch Wonderland Security Guard, we were all too shocked to get your name -- but thank you, thank you, thank you!)

Within minutes all three families were through the door, past the temptations of the gift shop, and through the gate for a very tiring but overall very happy day. With four young kids there were a couple of meltdowns, but they were actually very minor; the weather was nearly perfect (even though we ended up missing the water park again); and all but one of the day's glitches were nothing more than a passing inconvenience.

We had fun at the silly "Dragon's Tale" diving show (and wisely sat a couple of extra rows outside the soak zone)...

Got the kids pony rides, re-visited the dinos on Exploration Island (and yes, I know pterosaurs were only distantly related to dinosaurs)...

And just generally had a good time with all kinds of rides & events!

I decided to stay dry this year and avoided the "log sploosh" but let all the mommies get wet. There was a "you go, guy!" moment when the youngest & smallest of our four kids turned halfway up the slide and worked his way back down, but our concern that he'd become too frightened by the height turned to laughter when we realized he had decided he wanted his own burlap bag to ride (instead of piggybacking with his sister) and once properly equipped happily bulled his way right back up to the top to rejoin the girls. There was a scary moment when one of the girls get her hand caught in a closing gate, but no damage was done and the park staff's response was so fast & comprehensive that it almost bordered on overkill. (The ride was completely shut down until they could determine the problem had been the gate, not the ride -- and it was kept closed until a mechanic checked the gate and gave the go-ahead... while the poor girl running the ride was politely but firmly reminded of all the things she had to keep her eyes on while working.  Too bad she forgot to turn on all the lights when the ride started back up...!)

All good things must come to an end, but we didn't physically pass through the main entrance on our way out until the park had officially been closed for at least half an hour. There was a quick stop at a nearby Friendly's for dinner...

...and then a housing issue came up. I had tried, with zero success, to find hotel accommodations for Mama N and her two kids before the trip, and all the smartphones were kept busy during dinner with an equal lack of success. It had been a long, tiring day and none of us wanted her to try the long drive home without a good night's sleep. We decided to see if the Hampton Inn's front desk staff could help us out, and they came through in spades. After a couple of quick checks with their competitors came up empty, I asked, "Is there any way they could legally just share our rooms with us?" and got a big, happy, "Of course -- no problem!" Even better, when I asked what the fees would be so I could take care of it right then & there, I was told we already had the rooms booked and I'd already paid when we checked in, so "of course" there would be no extra fees -- and did we need any additional bedding?

We were all blown away by this display of unexpected hospitality (under the circumstances, they could've soaked us for the cost of another full room and more), and I was so surprised that about 20 minutes later I padded barefoot back out to the lobby to ask again, just to make sure -- which the young gal at the desk thought was really nice but way too much worrying on my part.

Secure in the knowledge that everyone would have a good night's sleep, the kids proceeded to do their best to postpone it, moving back & forth between our rooms uncounted times with uncounted excuses (sometimes just for fun), and keeping their room's noise level suitably high well into the evening. Eventually even the most active members of our party fell asleep, so we were all only mildly groggy at the morning's wake-up call. Instead of going home, we planned to take the kids to the Crayola Experience in "nearby" Easton, PA, so after another round of Look Out Uncle Brian Has His Camera and buying discounted tickets online, we formed up into a small caravan and hit the road.

You may have noticed that I put quotes around "nearby" in the preceding paragraph. To make a long story short, we found that we were actually several hours' drive away -- an even longer trip for the five of us, since we became separated and AJ's GPS took us via a route that had us reach the attraction within minutes of everyone else despite us driving nonstop while they all actually stopped for a snack and some shopping. There wasn't anything we could do about it, so we piled into the building for some of the last shows & demos of the day... and had a surprisingly good time. (One of the girls even got called to the front of the room to help with one of the demos!)

Watch out for falling giant crayons!  :-)
What it says... and it IS big, at least as large as a WWII torpedo.

Miri tries her hand at creating "live" electronic art for projection on the wall.
The astronaut with the "B" on his helmet is mine... who says little kids have to have all the fun?
Mom poses with her creation...
...while Dad proudly points out his own!

After the kids (and sometimes the grownups) had a chance to play with an interactive exhibit showing how shipment by boat & barge works, make different kinds of art with melted crayons, create & wrap their own custom crayon, create digital artwork & email it home, and a whole bunch of other stuff, it was near closing time and also time to get some food before heading home. We got directions home from one of the Crayola staff and set out to find dinner before the long drive home. Since it was getting late on a Sunday evening, we drove back & forth through parts of downtown Easton, noting some interesting old buildings until finding a Cheeburger Cheeburger that was still open. AJ volunteered me to parallel park the van for her (I had lots of practice in Brussels), and did so well I was then volunteered to try to do the same with Mama H's big ol' pickup -- and finally had to give up when everyone agreed the spot was no bigger than the truck, while the vehicle itself stubbornly refused to fold in the middle.  Mama H found a good (easy!) parking spot maybe 100 feet away, and we managed to get into the restaurant just before the kitchen closed. There were some glitches with the orders & the bill but all in all it was a successful end to a long but happy day.

Everyone went their own way, and I have to admit I dozed off almost as often as the Pipsqueak on the way home. Still, it was a very long drive after a very long weekend, so we've decided that in the future we'll schedule the most distant destination for the start of the trip, instead of the end. I was also glad I still had a charge on my iPhone -- during dinner I double-checked the directions home the young gentleman in the Crayola store had given us, and discovered it was a nice, short trip to his home in Hagerstown -- but an extra 2-3 hours' road time for us. AJ's GPS didn't weird out this time so we were able to find our way back to familiar territory... but we'll still check a map and travel times before choosing the order in which we visit different destinations on our next road trip!

And there you have it, this year's last big pre-school road trip. (It feels weird to type "pre-school" since the Pipsqueak's now in first grade, y'know?)  We're thinking that this might have been our last trip to Dutch Wonderland; all the kids are getting older, and they've already outgrown a number of the rides they went on last year. We have lots of good memories of the park and its people, but knowing the level of sophistication Miri and her buds regularly surprise us with, we're thinking that Road Trip 2016 will be to Hershey Park instead... Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I'm still nursing a bad cold and have been up most of the night typing this, so I think I'm going to see if can can fall asleep between the coughs... See y'all soon!

[1] No, no one in the group (as far as I know) took classes at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Going back about a dozen years or so, when all the families were caught up in the early stages of The Wait and were just getting to know each other, most of the mommies weren't actually mommies yet. As the group jelled and friendships formed, several of them took to calling themselves the "Moms In Training," or "MITs" for short. (For a short time the name, "Underground Dragons" was bandied about, but that's a whole 'other story I'm not going into here.) Since my fingers stumble every time I try to find a shorter version of the phrase, "our group of fellow adoptive families" or even "our adoption friends," I've decided it's long overdue that I use the group's informal name here as well as when we talk together.

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