My wife was born in Pittsburgh -- or at least the "Pittsburgh Area". She grew up going to the local amusement park, Kennywood. If you live in Pittsburgh, it's as important to your kid's childhood as Disney is to Floridians or Californians. . . or King's Dominion is to Virginians, etc. Every local school has "Kennywood Day" and many of the local companies have their company picnics there. Leslie had a job there when she was a teenager, even earning herself dubious local reknown as "The girl whose incompetence led to the redesign of the Steel Phantom's braking system". When she tells the story it's not "incompetence" though. It's. . . inattention or something. The Steel Phantom has since been replaced by Phantom's Revenge (hopefully featuring the same hi-tech braking system that Leslie's pioneering stewardship of its predecessor caused to be invented) and Emma our oldest has already been indoctrinated into the many joys that being in mortal terror have to offer.
Way back in May, you may remember that we participated in the Highmark Walk for Healthy Living (or some such. . . the name is cumbersome. ). We called it "Just a Lil Walk". We made t-shirts and raised about $2,000 for a Pennsylvania Autism Charity, ABOARD. . . which is now Autism Connection of Pennsylvania. ANYWAY. . . they had incentives along the way for earning X. . . then 2X. . . then 3X. . . and, baby, we hit all the X's. One of the great side benefits of hitting the X's was that we got free tickets to Kennywood. That brings us to September 3rd.
Labor Day weekend is traditionally the last weekend that Kennywood is open; the kids are going back to school, the weather starts getting colder, and the crowds thin out. But we had free tickets. And if we didn't use them. . . it's not like they'd carry over to next year. Leslie arranged to take Emma, and my sister and her two kids to the park. . . BUT. . . in typical Leslie fashion, dropped this tiny little innocent suggestion which I was powerless NOT to fixate on until guilt consumed me and I gave in. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"What if we took Lily?"
What if we took Lily. I was immediately irritated. Plans. . . plans were being changed, people! I like my plans to stay the same! This is almost EXACTLY how she manipulated me into going to see "Brave" over Father's Day (with fantastic results), and I went through all the same emotions and anxieties and. . . ultimately did the right thing.
FIRST of all, we got the tickets for participating in a fund raiser for autism. How hard would it be to look at myself in the mirror (mmmm. . . still got it!) if I failed to include my autistic daughter in plans to go to an amusement park that an autism charity provided? Probably not that hard, but I'd feel really guilty.
SECONDLY, the tickets were free. Assuming Lily HATED it. . . what's the worst thing that could happen? I drive her home! Easy peasy.
THIRD, as often as I've heard talk about disability passes for Disney and other placed on people's blogs (and I'd link some really great ones here, but I'm afraid there are a zillion, and if I link one and skip another, I'll feel all guilty, and how would I look at myself in the mir-. . . you get the idea) I've never attempted to investigate their use for ourselves.
FOURTH, and this is probably the least valid of the reasons that swayed me. . . it's great blog fodder.
Let me sidebar briefly. When you live your life in full view of others (or mostly full). . . you have more of a tendency to do the "right thing". When people you know (whether online or in "real life) and respect are doing the right thing, and reading what you put in your blog, able to scrutinize your decisions and think to themselves. . . "he did the wrong thing". . . it gets in your mind, that you should be doing things the right way too. I flatter myself that regardless of the blog I'd still have done the right thing, but in the back of my mind was a little warm fuzzy that I could point to something that I had done where I could say. . . "that was the right thing to do," and write about it. And honestly, even if the experience was a nightmare. . . those are some of the best stories. Win-win!!
By the time we made up our mind it was just after lunch time. It was supposed to pour rain, leftovers from Hurricane. . . Isaac? Irving?, but not until the evening.
Lily was SO EXCITED:
Okay, so she really had no idea what was going on, but regardless, she was coming. We drove the minivan, and my sister and her kids took Emma in her car so that we'd have an escape vehicle if things got bad. Making event plans with your autistic kids almost always involve making escape plans, or contingency plans. Knowing that you can escape if your child has a meltdown and that you can retreat to a happy place really removes a huge amount of stress right off the bat. Things CAN go wrong, but if they do, you aren't stuck.
|The iconic Kennywood "arrow". Pittsburgh is filthy with them.|
Once we got to Kennywood, our first stop was guest services. Leslie had already spoken to someone on the phone about what we needed to do, which I'd highly recommend, and so we stopped in to fill out some paperwork. We carried this paperwork with us wherever we went. It was our. . . "bypass the line" pass, but more importantly (because we only used the bypass feature once) it was our "parent is allowed to assist child in getting on and off the rides" pass. This feature kicked ass, because we didn't have to worry about people getting bit or slapped because Lily was anxious. . . it was her own mother! Or me. . . but mostly her mother. And there WAS biting. . . but we'll get to that later.
|Uh oh. . . puzzle pieces. This is bound to piss SOMEONE off.|
Just prior to bag check, I stopped off at the rental place and picked up a wagon. The PLAN was to pull Lily around so that we didn't feel like we had to hold her hand the whole time, but Lily wanted no part of the wagon (at least not for about 5 hours). Regardless, the wagon was still a good investment ($6 for the day).
|Snacks, toys, change of clothes. . .|
We went en masse to Kiddieland to get Lily accustomed to the park before bidding farewell to the more adventurous "Big Kids" (including my sister. . . more on that later). We wanted to see how she'd handle the rides and so we all stayed together. Emma got on the first one or two with her to just help her. Lily LOVES her big sister, so we figured she'd be a calming presence at least until Lily got the hang of "riding".
|You are now entering Kiddie Land!|
The FIRST ride we selected was Turtle Chase. Awwww. . . turtles! Chasing each other, slowly, non-threateningly. It was not a hit. The rollers under the turtles were loud, and it was Lily's first ride, and she did not want to get on it. . . and once on it, she did not settle down and enjoy the ride.
|"I'm all done!"|
She was upset. I really thought this whole experience was setting itself up for an early departure. The SECOND ride was the Dizzy Dynamo. She was not AS upset. She wasn't "happy" per se, but she wasn't upset. She was just sorta. . . experiencing.
|She's doing alright. I'm in mortal terror.|
At some point. . . probably sometime after the Dizzy Dynamo, maybe immediately following the Red Baron. . . her anger at being forced to get on rides transitioned into something else. . . anger at being forced to GET OFF rides.
As her bi-wing airplane flew in lazy loops around the hydraulics of the Red Baron, and we shrilled, "push up on the lever" without effect, Lily started to enjoy the rides. Leslie, whose childhood memories of Kennywood (and whose expectations of what Kennywood might someday mean to her own children) were so special, even shed a little tear. This was a milestone she'd always looked forward to sharing with BOTH her children.
This isn't probably something you can even DO at a place like Six Flags or Disney. . . the sort of hometown, "yeah, go ahead and let her just stay on it" approach probably doesn't work as well when you have a 15 minute wait between rides, but it was a fantastic day for Lily.
The one experiment we tried with the "bypass the line" was on the turnpike. It's a ride where you essentially sit in a car on a flat track and it zooms you around (see below. . . "vroom")So let me briefly talk about my feelings on "bypassing". I feel guilty about it. I don't like the looks I get when I stand over to the side and show my pass to the attendant and they let me in, past all the people waiting their turns patiently. BUT. . . There's no other way Lily would get to experience that ride. She's not capable of waiting like that. She's not capable of standing in the crush, inching slowly toward the ride entrance. It's too much for her. So while I felt a little guilty about it, I also felt like that's exactly what that pass is for. . . to allow kids (in the case of Lily in Kiddieland) who aren't able to stand patiently in the crush of humanity as the line inches slowly forward to experience what all the other kids get to experience. So I was happy we had it, and guilty or not, I was happy we used it.
|Our one bout with terror. The Pounce Bounce. "I hate dis!"|
Meanwhile. . . the other riders were having a blast doing all their big kid rides while we tooled around Kiddie Land. . . with the main event rapidly approaching. . . The Sky Coaster. The Sky Coaster is this nylon harness attached to a "launch tower" that pulls you up 180 feet into the air and then drops you when you pull a rip chord, and you fly back and forth like a giant cat toy for about five minutes before someone takes pity on you and reels you in. It's an a la carte ride, and slots fill up fast. So we paid our $17.50 per person for a six o'clock slot (and by we, I mean the crazy people. My niece, Emma, and my sister).
With great reluctance, Lily agreed to accompany Leslie to the entrance to the Skycoaster while I stood on the bridge to take pictures and video. . . cray cray. Spoiler alert. . . they do NOT plummet to their deaths. The way the video goes it sorta looks like they're going to smear across the landing area. They live.
We rode it twice, and then Lily and I went home. . . but not before stopping off at McDonald's AGAIN. She was upset and whiny, but two nuggets in was chipper and carefree. We got home around her bedtime. It was a really good day. The "riders" (I'm not included in that description, but Leslie is) stayed behind and finished their evening around 9:30 or 10, I can't remember.
Everyone had fun. Everyone was included.