The Austin Chronicle

Stories from the Midway

Fun for the Whole Family

By Julia Austin, May 10, 2002, Features

Am I sweaty and nauseous? Then this must be Six Flags ...

"This will be big fun," they say. And then into the station wagon for a long, boring ride, perhaps without air conditioning, fighting with the sibs. An inevitable stop by the side of the road: I'm not going one inch further until there's complete silence in this car. Then the first sulking period begins. Finally, the arrival at the park. Let's say, Six Flags Over Texas. And it's 102 degrees, so the walk to the gate alone is stupefying. Someone, who's too little to really understand that the big payoff is at hand, begins to cry and has to be carried.

Money is proffered, the gates of middle-class heaven open. There is a feeling of renewed hope amongst the pilgrims as tickets are purchased and food booths beckon. Then, the first major parental fight. Mom says the 4-year-old needs a stroller, and she wants to rent one to the tune of $10. The 4-year-old has graduated to a magnificent fit that is super-sized every time she tries to throw herself onto the sizzling pavement. Dad says she can just jump a stump and get glad: no stroller. The older kids stand by, looking dazed.

The issue splits the group. Mom takes the screamer and the stroller and huffs off in search of shade. Dad, still unaccountably hopeful, takes the older kids. Sodas and hot dogs give the trio the strength to go on and do what must be done. Sister wants the spinning teacups. Brother wants the roller coaster. Waiting lines assessed, the teacups win. Brother begins a sulk, which is cut short by the purchase of cotton candy. The wait in the line, mostly in direct sun, is 20 minutes. No problem. More cotton candy makes the time fly. Then, the ride. It's a thrill! Brother puts all of his 9-year-old strength into making the thing spin at top speed, and the terrified screams of his sister spur him on. All too soon, the ride is over and they stumble off, one grinning, one crying. Then the crying stops and the look changes to panic. "I think I'm gonna ..." and Sister buys a Buick. Everyone jumps back.

But things are going swell! There's the roller coaster! No way, says Sister, still looking green. So Dad establishes her at a shady table with a soda, and begins the wait -- a hearty 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, back with Mom, despite treats and a ride on the kiddie coaster, the 4-year-old is having a bad day. Is it heat exhaustion, or does she have a fever? Mom can't tell, but feels woozy from the heat herself and seeks a place to ride out the afternoon. Is there a petting zoo? A gift shop? Even a reptile house would be an oasis. She finds a table, where it's 95 degrees in the shade and sits, holding the sweaty child on her lap. The critter falls asleep, flushed and drooling. Thirty minutes pass. An hour. Mom shifts repeatedly. She needs to pee, but doesn't want to wake the little monster. The fun is killing her, but at least there's the passing scene to keep her entertained. She decides to conduct a silent big butt contest until the reconvening time.

The time arrives, and the family is reunited. Dad and the older kids look like they've crossed the Sahara. Mom is logy and crabby, but little bit is awake and she feels great! She wants to do the rides, have the whole experience. What do you mean, it's time to go?! She's down again with another fit that will last much of the return trip.

Back in the car, the crying drowns out all conversation. Sister smells like vomit, and her brother won't let her forget it. Mom looks like she's going to cry, too. "Did everyone have a good time?" Dad yells over the screaming. No one answers, and Dad looks pissed. Oh well, maybe a trip to Stuckey's will set it all right.

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