“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins
And so it was on the out-going portion of our journey that A and I found ourselves embarking on an adventure unlike any other we had on our journey. And so it was that our bodies collided with the earth. And so it was that we were compelled to grapple with limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty. And so it was that we were changed at a place where nothing was ever black and white: Sesame Place.
I had decided, a few days earlier, that we'd make one stop on our four hour drive from New York City to Washington, DC. We'd need a break and we'd need it to be kid friendly. Our good friend the Internets led us to Sesame Place. And here is what I thought, "This place is perfect for A. I love PBS. An oversized Elmo is going to blow her mind and I am going to be there to witness and document the look on her face." Also, we could get a discount (see below).
To build excitement (and lessen fear when the actual moment arrived) I told Ada we were going to see a "big Elmo."
"BIG! Elmo," she'd repeat, motioning her arms wide overhead.
"That's right," I told her. "Big Elmo."
Here's what actually happened.
When we pulled up to the parking lot, we forked over $15 dollars to park for the day, which caught me off guard because not only had I just driven halfway across the country without having to pay for parking a single time but, for some reason and in spite of having been born and bred in America, capitalism still catches me off guard every time. At the gate, we paid $30 to enter the park. We would have normally paid $55 (A is young enough to be free) but it was Zoe's birthday and we got a $20 discount in her honor. Happy Birthday, Zoe. This is a discount I can get behind (mostly because there was no way I was paying $55 to get into the park otherwise). In fact, there should be more discounts in honor of fictional characters' fictional birthdays. For example, paper should be discounted on Michael Scott's birthday. Better than a discount: free chocolate for everyone on Willy Wonka's birthday! Discounted trips to the moon to celebrate Buzz Lightyear's birth!
Let me begin with the smell because Sesame is the type of place that has the smell of hot sugar (cotton candy) piped out of the doorways of their concession shops. Hot sugar mixed with popcorn.
Inside the gate, there was a topiary Elmo, bigger than any of A's (six?) Elmo dolls.
"Oh!" A said. "BIG! Elmo." Again, she threw her arms wide and high.
"That is a big Elmo," I said and she smiled. Oh, you just wait, kid, I thought.
I half-heartedly checked a map and then followed the signs to the toddler area. We parked our stroller and walked into Abby's maze. She had apparently lost her wand or something and the maze goers were supposed to help her. There were clues everywhere (which I didn't read because I wasn't focused on watching that bigger kids didn't plow into A and vice-versa). Some of the clues were related to how something smelled -- I think it was supposed to be pumpkin -- but all I could smell was cotton candy and popcorn. A stalled at a spot where pumpkins and Abby and her wand were projected onto the floor and she could "kick" the pumpkins and Abby and her wand and they'd bounce all over the place. Every so often a new crew of bigger kids would come rumbling through and A would move over to the side and hold on to my leg until the bigger kids cleared out and it was quiet again. And then she'd go back to her kicking and stomping.
At one point, another girl, a little older than A, but no older than 3 ran onto the projected pumpkins and bumped into another little girl who, domino-like, bumped into A who fell down. She cried, more scared and startled than anything.
The first girl's dad yelled at her, "I told you to quit running into people! NOW we're going to leave!" and he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out. It was awkward because I felt a little bad that my kid had something to do with ending this girl's day of fun and because the dad grabbed the girl a little more harshly than I would have but not so harshly that I felt I should say something. And because, as my sister says, "Amusement parks bring out the worst in people." (Although my brother disagrees: he thinks it's airports.) And I realized that my sister is probably right.
We finished the maze and at the end, we were rewarded with a small banana, which A sat happily eating on a bench while kids ran past her to the next ride or event or climber.
I thought, "This isn't so bad -- the freebie hand-outs are bananas." But then later on, they handed out free smarties and some sort of salty snack that left A's fingers coated with an orange dust and I thought, "This is not the PBS I know and love."
A posed with a giant Abby and she was quite taken, but I was still waiting for a giant Elmo. She also posed with cookie monster, but she was less impressed by him and decided getting close to Bert and Ernie wasn't even worth the wait in the line.
A went on a little train that I pushed along on the tracks. She wasn't really interested in the playgrounds or rides and I wasn't interested in the potential of her getting pushed down again or waiting in line. So we walked around a lot and watched people and muppets.
We ate at a cafeteria where the offerings were mostly breaded and fried and where it all cost a bazillion dollars. The signs about "seasonal butternut squash soup" were all lies. Lies.
A woman glared at me because I didn't hold open a second door for her and her double-wide stroller. We watched a mom put lip gloss on for her picture with Cookie Monster, that her kid didn't really want to take and parents yell at each other for not doing a good enough job holding a place in the line for the Halloween Spooktacular stage show. I thought, "This place really does bring out the worst."
And still, no Elmo.
She danced a little in the street, where a line was forming for a coming parade. She looked at a few things in the gift shop and clung to an Abby doll briefly. I'm so grateful that she still buys it when I tell her that things in the gift shop stay there and that she doesn't beg and plead (yet) to take things home.
On our way out, I lamented that there hadn't been the big Elmo I had promised, that I had spent all this money at a place where, as an under two year old, there were many things -- rides, shows, grown adults in furry costumes -- that she wasn't really interested in. I lamented that amusement parks seem to bring out the worst in people.
We made another trip to the potty, where she looked at a picture of Elmo.
"BIG! Elmo," she said smiling.
"That's right," I told her.
And she seemed satisfied with that.