Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Lion King (Autism-Friendly-style)

This was big.

What was the big deal?  I don't know.  But it was.  It was a big deal.  You play back all the rejection in your mind...kicked out of church because your daughter is too loud in the balcony and the organist doesn't want to detract from Easter Mass, kicked out of the front of the auditorium where your daughter is watching her cousins in a talent show because the woman in front complains she's too loud and it's hurting her sons ears, told to quiet her down in a theater before the performance starts and that maybe a theater isn't the right place for her if she can't quiet down...all the little hurts that build into chronic anxiety and stress and a feeling of "she can't do that"..."she's not welcome there"..."what if people complain"...any time any new experience is contemplated.  If she "couldn't" do those things, how could she possibly attend a musical?

Musicals have protocols all their own, when to stand or clap figuring prominently among them, but chiefest of these always is remain quietly seated throughout.  And there's just no way that can happen with Lily.  Unless...unless someone put together a performance where the conventional protocols of musical theater were adapted...suspended...unless someone changed the way a musical's conventional performance was conducted.

And that is precisely what this was.  I don't know exactly how the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust got where they did with the Lion King.  I know that ABOARD worked with them, and I'd be speculating if I threw all the credit at ABOARD without knowing if other charities were involved...or if I threw all the credit at The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for doing it not knowing how long or hard the charity(ies) had to work to make it happen. What I know is what I experienced.  What I know is what I can directly report.  If people want to know more of the details I'll ask around.  Or maybe they'll comment here.  You never know.  This post is just to talk about what The Lion King meant to me and mine and a few thousand of my closest friends...my tribe.  But I know people here and in other cities..."autism people"... were abuzz.

The bill of goods we were sold is that this was to be an "Autism-friendly showing of The Lion King musical".  I know that there was at least one sensory room.  I know that there were quiet rooms for people to retreat to if it got overwhelming.  I know that fidgets were available.  I know that the staff was bolstered by volunteers who were familiar with autism.  I know that when we bought tickets we received a social story discussing what could be expected.

The other things I saw while I was there, but I was mostly ignorant of the details because once I bought the tickets I put it out of my mind until probably a week before the performance and focused on our little family.

We'd gotten tickets right away, so our seats were good.  Extremely good.  Front row, aisle, with the grandparents sitting an aisle back.  We were as close to the stage as you can get without actually being part of the performance, not that Lily didn't try to join in.

We were ready in plenty of time for the drive downtown.  All we had to do was get the kids McDonald's and then we'd be set.  Predictably we fucked this up.  With no money, Leslie arrived at McDonald's and attempted to purchase Happy Meals with her smile.  And just as predictably McDonald's found this currency wanting (despite the smile being priceless).  We had to make another unplanned trip.

Leslie got home and found me less ready than she needed me to be and snapped.  I snapped back and we were off to the races.  Pissed off and stressed out.  It wouldn't be a family outing if it didn't start that way.

Extra trip accomplished, we left fifteen minutes later than we wanted but still arrived with 10 minutes to spare.  I pulled over to the curb in the rain and the girls piled out.  I circled the block to look for parking and found it a half block away from The Benedum (the venue).

I pulled into the parking spot, unlimbered my umbrella and crossed the street to the Benedum before  ducking inside.  Leslie texted me that they were already seated, and I had time to spare.  I found Lu (ABOARD's director) in the lobby.  She told me, unnecessarily, to calm down, and I meandered in to find our seats.  I was the last to arrive, and although I probably sat down just after the 2:00 start time, they allowed people to slowly trickle in for several more minutes before the lights were dimmed (not extinguished) and the show started.

I'm told the music was quieter...for being directly in front of the speakers, I suppose it had to have been.  The music started to play, and Lily looked a bit alarmed.  She reached out to grab hold of our arms.  She didn't want her hands to be held, just wanted to hold someone's hand.  On her terms.  She was agitated.  We made references to the stage..."see the monkey!" ..."her name is Rafiki"...

"No, don't talk!"

I worried she'd start to spiral, but then the music started to sound familiar, and the animals started to walk the aisles...and she was captivated.  Her eyes got big and she started looking all around her at the elephants and giraffes and cheetahs, at the cloth construct birds tethered to poles swirling around our heads, at the colors and the lights and the music.  We kept a steady stream of observations going, attempting to calm her and engage her.  Her movements were quick and stiff like she was scared and anxious, but looking at her face I could see she was just very stimulated by what was going on around her.

The animals gathered and voices joined to voices, agglomerating and building, and they sang the "Circle of Life" and the music and the song built in richness and volume to the crescendo and the Lion King, Mufasa held up his cub for the world's inspection and acceptance and the animals bowed and Lily sang along.  We watched her watching them and my eyes started to brim and I looked to Leslie to see the tears already streaming down her face...watching Lily watch The Lion King.  I gave Emma's hand a squeeze.  She seemed oblivious to the emotion.  I felt the cold constricting band of anger and stress loosen and then fall away from around my chest and I felt like I could breathe again.  I sighed and breathed a deep relaxing breath and then I leaned back into my seat - willing my muscles to slacken, willing my hands to unclench- to enjoy the show.

Throughout the performance the mutters and shrieks and even what sounded like prolonged boos rang out from the crowd.  It felt weird.  It felt funny.  It felt off.  But we all knew.  We all knew it was okay.  And the performers knew it was okay.  And nobody complained or hushed anyone.  Not once.  And believe me it was a full house.  A young man near us, let loose a cacophony of shrieks.  He was upset.  I'm not sure what about.  He stood and stamped and shrieked at his caregivers.  They calmed him and soothed him.  I'm sure they were conscious of others around them.  But nobody cast scornful looks.  Everybody in that venue had a stake in the autism life.  There was no judgement.  As the end of the performance neared he'd had enough.  His group quietly stood and departed and he visibly relaxed in gratitude as they left.  No one told them to wait to stand.  No one cried, "Down in front!"

If the ushers had negative opinions about this disruption to business as usual they didn't show it.  I never saw one look of scorn or judgement.  I saw only smiles.  I experienced only friendly service. 

The performance ended and thousands of grateful patrons stood to appreciate it with cheers and whistles and the performers bowed and smiled in acceptance.  A little girl wearing noise reducing headphones bolted for the stage.  Her mother scooped her up and took her back to their seat.  I smiled.  Ten seconds later she was loose and charging the stage again.  Again her mother corralled her expertly and returned her to her seat.  A third time she bolted.  This time the performers saw her and they began smiling and waving to her, blowing kisses her way as she smiled delightedly back at them, her mother simply holding her in place this time.  I laughed and found again that my eyes were brimming.

Lily stayed in her seat the entire time.  She loved the performance.  At the end of each number she immediately turned to one or both of us and said, "I want the next song."  And each time we replied, "It's coming, Lily."

We left the Benedum with a spring in our strides.  We dodged rain drops and got in our car and drove home and Leslie would sit at the table, or couch, or stand at the counter, or lie in bed for the next...I don't know...four hours maybe?  and repeat, "My heart is full," over and over and over until all she had to do was catch my eye and I'd roll mine and say, "Yeah, I know.  Your heart is full...full of love."

I hope that was everyone's experience.  When we left I tried to think of what could have been done "better".  And the things I thought were all limitations to the venue itself.  The least autistim-friendly parts of the performance were not part of the performance at all.  They were the facilities, or the ingress and egress.  That is where the waiting took place.  That is where the large, loud, stimulating crowds jostled and maneuvered.  And I told Leslie as we left, "I don't know how you could improve upon that unless you convinced the venue to sell half the seats and call 50% attendance a sell-out, then got some major corporate sponsor to underwrite the missing revenue from tickets and concessions so that it still made money."  And that's it.  That's the only issue I had.  It was ironic to me that the intermission, traditionally a time to get up and move around, relax and visit the facilities, was probably the most stressful part of the performance for most people.

We were allowed to get up and move around.  We were allowed to make all the noise we wanted.  We could leave if we needed to without complaint.  We could take her to a quiet room to calm down.  We were allowed to bring in our own food.  The music was softer.  The lights were dimmed but not extinguished.  Extra volunteers were on hand.  Performers and employees were instructed on what to expect.  Women were in the men's room with their kids, men were in the women's room with their kids.  And everyone knew why, and it worked.  It worked so well.

This was big. 

In December they're putting on an "autism-friendly" performance of the Nutcracker.  We used the Lion King to gauge whether we thought Lily would enjoy it...could handle it.  We'll be buying tickets, assuming they're still available.  She can do it.

One last post script.  I know that other organizations were witnessing this.  Seeing how it was done.  Seeing whether it could be done in their venues.  If you're reading this and thinking to yourself..."God, I wish they'd do something like that here," then consider the possibility that they just may.  Contact your local equivalent of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and see.  Contact your local equivalent of ABOARD and see.  Don't assume they're not.

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust on Facebook
Aboard (Autism Connection of PA) on Facebook

Friday, September 13, 2013

First Day of School!

Violating the Code of the Blogger, I'll post a mid-day Friday post about sending the kids off to school.  By now 90% of the country has had a week or two under their respective belts academically, and my kids are just boarding their buses.

The strike was over Wednesday night, and the kids were really excited to head back.  Emma in particular was afraid she'd have difficulty going to sleep, and packed and repacked her backpack in preparation for her bus ride 48 hours later.

We were a little out of practice this morning, I won't lie.  Leslie decided to "work from home".  Fine...when Leslie does it it's actually work from home...without the quotes.  She has never missed a morning getting the kids on the bus for first day and today wasn't going to be an exception.

She headed down to start breakfast as I finished getting dressed this morning and I texted down to her (to avoid yelling) asking whether she wanted me to get Lily up.  Emma had already gotten herself up and changed and they'd headed down to straighten her hair for the first day.  Leslie said yes, and so I crept into Lily's room to see if she'd woken yet.

She slumbered peacefully under mounded covers.  I stared at the dresser.  First day of school clothes.  Lots of cute clothes in Lily's drawer.  Hmm.  First day of school clothes cute?  Despite being perfectly capable of picking out coordinated and snappy apparel for my daughter I shook my head and stole quietly from the room on tip toes.

I walked downstairs where Leslie had finished straightening Emma's hair.  She glanced up questioningly?  "No Lily?"

"Rather than bring her down in the 'wrong' clothes, I figured you'd probably want to pick out her first day of school outfit."

If this sounds like a dodge, please know that it is really not a big deal for me to wake up Lily, put her on the potty, get her dressed and bring her downstairs, but on my best days sometimes I'll walk her downstairs and Leslie will glance at the ensemble and indicate that the weather forecast is 65 ...not 75 and therefore the threshold for capris has been breached and she must instead wear pants or something.  I don't know.  Some unwritten..."code of the mom" thing, imbedded in the hive mind of mothers everywhere where a temperature drift of as little as 5 degrees completely invalidates the attire of everyone in the house.  "Jim, you're going to be cold without a jacket..." is the bane of my existence.

So having been through this drill many many times, I knew that no matter what I brought Lily downstairs in...whether it be a gunny sack, The Emperor's New Clothes, or Dolce & Gabbana...it was going to change.

If I expected an eye roll or an argument, I didn't get one.  Leslie merely nodded at this as if to say, "Good point, you can't be trusted, I'll take over," and went upstairs to do just that as I finished the breakfasts.

It was time to take the morning picture.  Leslie offered to take the kids outside and get their pictures.  Emma offered, "Maybe daddy could do it so they'll be in focus!"

This is funny.  I'm not positive Leslie was entirely amused.  To be fair, a lot of Leslie's pictures are out of focus.  Or...to be more fair still to HER...they're focused extremely well, just on something other than what you think she should be focused on.  For example a picture of Lily in front of the house might show you spectacularly clear definition of our front door knob, but Lily's head might appear constructed of fuzzy cotton candy in the 'foreground'. 

Just as Leslie swapped out with me to get Lily dressed, I swapped out with her for the pictures.

I took Emma's picture.
This is Emma

I posted the pic and went in for Lily.  Lily didn't want to come outside.  At one point there was some arguing where Leslie was raising her voice to me, I was raising mine back, Emma then told us both to be nice, so I yelled at Emma to let mommy and I yell at each other and we all sort of retreated and regrouped and came back together and gave hugs and kisses and took Lily out onto the stoop for her pictures.
a smile and everything!

She didn't want to stand, but she smiled largely and genuinely and I caught it.  BOOM!  *drops iphone and walks off stage*

Both girls were happy to board their respective buses.  Lily's teacher texted Leslie to let us know she had a great day.  I just got off the phone with Emma who reported the same.

We're very happy they're back on track.

Mostly.  The bus picking Lily up is currently running 45 minutes late.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What I Did on my Summer Vacation: Concluded

(Previous Post: "What I did on my Summer Vacation:  Part 4")

We were in the home stretch of our vacation.  All the stressful epic parts were over.  We thought we might shoehorn a trip to the beach between our last couple days, but it turned out Emma had developed a 'beach phobia'.  Well...a shark phobia.

And before you say, "Jim...this is because you forced her to watch Sharknado with you!" ...it so has nothing to do with how I forced her to watch Sharknado with me.  At all.  The only link at all between her new shark phobia and Sharknado is all the sharks that were eating people. And also the nightmares of sharks eating her that she had the night we watched it.  But...but...it was just that one night!

Fine, maybe there was something to that, but what we think happened is this...a couple weeks prior to going on the trip, Emma's cousins had been at the beach on vacation.  They got a great picture of a huge hammerhead shark sitting just off the beach in the water.  The beach had been evacuated...adventures ensued, doubtless, but the idea of that shark in shallow water took root in Emma's imagination and no amount of logic or reason could weed away the terror she had that sharks would eat one or more of our family if we ventured onto the white sandy beaches or worse...waded into shark infested shallows.

We said, "Let's not talk about it tonight, let's just see how you feel tomorrow."

This reminds me of a George Thoroughgood song, "One Whiskey, One Shot, One Beer".  I don't know why.  I sort of do.  Anyway, apparently George is having difficulty paying his rent and his landlady keeps kicking him out of the apartment.

"She said that don't confront me, 
Long as I get my money next Friday
 Now next Friday come I didn't get the rent
And out the door I went." 

So tomorrow came and she was still terrified of sharks...out of our plans it went.

This left our pristine schedule looking something like this:

First Day/Night (Saturday):  Travel, unpack, get settled, put together a grocery list, order pizza, play by the pool.
Day 2 (Sunday):  Universal
Day 3 (Monday):  Rest/recuperate/pool day...changed to Disney
Day 4 (Tuesday):  Disney...changed to rest/recuperate/pool day
Day 5 (Wednesday):  Rest/recuperate/pool day changed to Sea World Day
Day 6 (Thursday):  Sea World changed to beach day cancelled due to shark attack changed to rest/recuperate/pool day.
Day 7 (Friday):  Pool day/pack up/clean up/travel home.

And although we would never make it to Florida's beaches...also on the plus side, none of us were eaten by sharks.

So we had another day of play.  And it was good.  Leslie had tasked me with eating and drinking everything that was left in the fridge from our original grocery shopping, which meant I had to drink beer after beer after beer...like a chain smoker lighting the next cigarette off the still-burning cherry of the one dangling from his mouth...I drank and drank and drank until I completed her labor of Heracles.  No accolades accompanied this success, as Leslie was fast asleep.
this is what happens when you're told to finish everything in the cupboard.

We packed most of our things the previous night, but realized we'd read the fine print regarding checkout incorrectly, and had to scramble to get our stuff set up for the next day.  The biggest issue was that checkout was officially 11:00, and our flight wasn't scheduled until 4:00.  That left five hours to kill.  I asked Leslie to call the rental agency to see if we could checkout later (2:00) and they said yes, which made the trip to the airport a bit less stressful...until...

A huge thunderstorm rolled into Orlando.  Torrential rain accompanied by lightning and...the bane of Lily's existence..."Scary Funder".  And this thunder WAS scary, and loud.  And she was scared and upset and difficult to calm.  And we sort of suffered through our few hours at the airport (planes were all delayed because of lightning) but we hung in there and got on the plane to fly home.

And Lily was mostly good until descent...and then we think her ears started hurting and she couldn't understand what to do, and the fruit snacks must not have cut it because she had another accident when we checked her after landing despite not being really "scheduled" to go for a while. 

It must have been very scary for her to start feeling that pain and pressure building in her ears and not understand how to deal with it.  Emma's own problems with it on the way in had ended with her going to bed early and she'd understood.

The flight was over.  The trip was over.  My dad picked us up at the airport and we made it home safe and sound, just in time to watch the Steelers play their final preseason game.

It started the day before our trip to Orlando with Lily throwing up.  It ended the day we got back with the Steelers doing the metaphoric football equivalent.

Seven days in Orlando...nobody eaten, and no with vomit!*

*Sidebar:  My nephew, who follows me on Instagram was reading comments on one of the pics I posted of Lily while we were on vacation.  When we got back we were all celebrating my parent's birthdays together and got on the subject of Instagram.  He was like, "Some of the people who follow you leave the most bizarre comments."  I nodded...because...well some do...but I asked him for an example.

He said, "There was a picture of you guys in the airport, and one of the commenters said, 'and with no vomit!'"

I explained why the comment had occurred, and we laughed about it, but now every so often he'll see my Instagram feed and post a comment, "And no vomit!" regardless of picture.  I should post a picture of vomit and see what he says.  Maybe not.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What I Did on my Summer Vacation Part 4

(Previous Post:  "What I Did on my Summer Vacation Part 3")

Alright...Disney completed we were free to pursue the rest and relaxation that we'd previously bumped in favor of a Dawn-assisted trip.  Let's review the plan:

First Day/Night (Saturday):  Travel, unpack, get settled, put together a grocery list, order pizza, play by the pool.
Day 2 (Sunday):  Universal
Day 3 (Monday):  Rest/recuperate/pool day...changed to Disney
Day 4 (Tuesday):  Disney...changed to rest/recuperate/pool day
Day 5 (Wednesday):  Rest/recuperate/pool day
Day 6 (Thursday):  Sea World
Day 7 (Friday):  Pool day/pack up/clean up/travel home.

After we'd all breakfasted (bacon every morning, yo) we focused on not doing stuff all day.  This meant a lot of TV and pool time, and I got tons of pics at the pool, some of which were kinda cool, like this one:

or really sweet, like these:

Eventually Aunt Dawn and I went to pick up her rental car.  After three wrong turns we ended up at the rental counter about an hour before closing where they confessed that her car, though 'available' was not 'clean' yet and without hesitation, Dawn accepted this, because what else are you going to do, wait?  And we went to inspect the car.  I did, no shit, inspect the trunk for bodies, because in my head it was all playing out like an elaborate set up, where Dawn, renting a car filled with dead bodies takes the fall for some mob hit and ruins our vacation.  So I looked.  No dead bodies or heroin or briefcases filled with money were in the trunk, so she hopped in and followed me home.

We ordered food again that night.  I can't honestly remember what it was.  I know that at no point was any take-out place aware of the street our house was on and nobody delivered anything in under 45 minutes, so I assumed it must be pretty new.  We said good night and goodbye to Dawn (since she had to leave so early nobody would be awake), and then everyone went to bed...

Except me.

And Lily.  She had a super weird night.  I think in the end we chalked it up to overstimulation at Disney, but she was showing some signs of getting sick too.  Lots of drippy noses were cleaned poolside and Lily would sleep for about an hour or so before waking and crying.  I sent Emma (who was sharing a room with Lily) to sleep in our bedroom and spent the night sleeping in Lily's room.  I eventually (after getting her on the potty one last time around 1:30 in the morning) got her to stay asleep by springing up from Emma's bed whenever I heard Lily start to wimper...and patting her lower back until her cries would diminish in volume and fade entirely into a rasping whisper then silence and sleep.  This happened a couple more times, and I think I finally slept at about 3:00, afraid of what the next day would bring. 

But the next day came and Lily remained her bubbly happy little energetic self despite the previous night's (morning's) activities.  Dawn was gone, and we were on our own for another day of rest and relaxation.  So of course we said fuck it, and went to Sea World instead.

Leslie checked the website and saw that they were open until 10, so we took our time getting ready, at a late breakfast, played in the pool, and then headed for Sea World via McDonald's (for Lily's late lunch).

Obligatory park entrance photo...
actual Killer Whales impaled on harpoons
In keeping with our theme of "Do no research", we arrived at the park with no real idea what was there, where to go, or what to do.  We paid extra for preferred parking, because it had worked really well at Universal, and we parked very close to the front gate of the park.

The first stupid thing that happened was this:  for whatever reason the park was not closing at 10.  It was closing at 7, and whether Leslie read it wrong, or it was just listed wrong on the website, we had arrived at 3:00 and only had 4 hours in Sea World.  We did it anyway thinking regardless of what happened, we could tire the kids out enough by 7 that they'd have made us wish the park closed then even if it closed later.

The second stupid thing that happened was this:  If you buy tickets for Sea World at the gate it costs like (I'm off by a dollar or two here, but I'm too lazy to look it up) $95 per adult and $85 per kid.  Both Emma and Lily qualified as kids, so it was going to be $350 to get in the gate.  But the night before I'd look at ticket prices and they were posted as $50/person.  The girl at the counter said, "Yeah, but only if you buy online".

We got out of line...got ONline, and bought four tickets for $50/person and they downloaded to my phone.  I just showed them my phone screen...they swiped it under the scanner, and in we went.

$150 saved because I downloaded the tickets right then and there from my phone...why didn't all the other morons do that?  There was a line at the ticket counter...stupid.

Anyway, once in the park, I procured a stroller and Leslie, Emma, and Lily went to get an access card/pass/paper thingy.  It took a little longer at Sea World; Lily was getting antsy.  We did finally get the pass and the sticker for her stroller, and made our way out into the park.

The weather was gloomy...threat of rain...but there was always a threat of rain.  Some thunder made Lily a little skittish, but she and Emma reached into a giant tank to "pet" the stingrays and then Emma and I fed them...and it was freaky as shit.
She looks like she's a lot more into it than she really was...
Lily started spinning (this is something we say that's really short for "spinning out of control") then, and we attempted to view the enormous dolphin tank from underground, getting some really great pictures, but not actually making Lily any less agitated.

We made our way off into the park, again plan-less, again meandering frustratingly from one bad overstimulating thing to the next until finally I think Leslie got tired of all my negative stressful energy and took Lily to see the Sea Lions so that Emma and I could stand in line to feed the dolphins.

The dolphin thing was another "centerpiece" for the vacation, and I'm glad we could mark it off the "bucket list" but we stood in line a long time as the queue worked its way slowly dolphinward, snaking around barriers and buildings until we stood at last on the side of the dolphin tank, which was enormous and filled with frolicsome peckish dolphins.  Emma was instructed (as were the rest of the people participating) to cup their "chins" (because I haven't put enough words in quotes in this particular paragraph) and then feed them a fish to reward them.

It was pretty cool.  We got a great picture that the Sea World photographers took, and I bought it and we took it home with us.  But I also took a few:

What do you mean, "42"?  That doesn't even make sense.
By the time we made our way to the dolphins, Lily and Leslie had already seen the sea lions and had moved off to find Shamu.  She texted me, "You can still make it if you hurry".  The Shamu show started at 5:30 and we were just getting out of the dolphin feeding.  We started running...

And then we started walking.  Then I picked up Emma and carried her and then we started running again...but then almost immediately started walking more.  And shortly after that I put her down and we walked.  And then we ran a little more.

And Jesus, how far is it to Shamu Stadium?  The answer is:  A long way from the dolphins.  But we made it.  We missed a little splashing and cavorting, but we made it.

Rain interrupted the performance and delayed it.  When they came back to finish out the show there was perhaps another five minutes before it ended and the crowd spilled back into the park at large.  Lily liked the show, and we ate cotton candy and relaxed.

When we left the stadium we were right at the "kiddie" portion of the park.  Again...looking at this section, it screamed "Perfect for Lily!" and I again scolded myself for not immediately seeking it out.

We were running out of time.  They announced 30 minutes until the park closed.  The girls road a jellyfish ride together.  Lily loved it.  Then...then they went to the roller coaster.  It was a kiddie rollercoaster...but still too adventurous for my tastes.  Lily was in a good frame of mind and Leslie said..."why not".  She, Emma and Lily walked the ramp and stood in line.  Emma and I exchanged "Are you nuts?" glances at each other the entire time.   And then Lily rode it.  And loved it.

Now the announcements were coming more frequently, "10 minutes until the park closes".

She got off the ride, we made our way over to buy the picture of her first roller coaster ride, and Lily said, "I want to ride roller coaster again!", so they did!

"5 minutes until the park closes."

We made our way to the exit.  I posed the kids in front of a Sea World sign and then an employee walked by and offered to take all of our pictures.


And then Shamu snuck up on me and gave me a wedgie.

We made our way out of the park.  Again, it wasn't a homerun, but again I feel like it had more to do with us than it did with the park.  We did have fun after another rocky start, but probably could have benefited from another hour or two to explore.  I was glad we did it.  Everyone enjoyed it, but just the same we didn't stop by the gift shop for Shamu figurines or anything.

We drove home again.  Through the pouring rain again.  But this time everyone slept.

The exciting conclusion in, "What I Did on my Summer Vacation:  Concluded"