I spent Sunday with Joey at Discovery Kingdom (a.k.a. Marine World if you're an old coot like me), and I think it had just been too long since I had spent time with just him. When Joey has to compete for attention with Tommy, his attitude changes, and not for the better. Too many of our outings lately have been dominated by acting out on Joey's part, and frustration all around. Every once in a while I try to have a day out with Joey so we can kind of reconnect, and I'm convinced now that it doesn't happen often enough.
When I was a kid, being the youngest of four, I remember that solo outings with my parents were a rare and prized commodity. Of course, I never remembered a time when I didn't have competition for their attention. Joey's first two years were spent as the only focus of our attention. Now he knows he has competition, and it can get ugly. I can sympathize - when I was about 10, my mother gave me a peice of a model for the Death Star that she had liberated from a pile of would-be trash at Industrial Light and Magic (she worked nearby). Being a huge Star Wars fan I was ecstatic, but beyond that, I was happy to get something from her that was just for me.
A few days later, she told me that she had meant to cut it into peices and give equal parts to my brother, sister and I. I remembered being angry and very disappointed. I initially refused to give up the peices, but I ended up giving them to my brother and sister after the furor had died down and I was able to think a little more clearly. That happened when I was 10 and I remember it clearly - I can only imagine how a 3 year-old processes feelings like those. Every time I split a cookie between them, every time I say "I love you guys" instead of just "I love you, Joey" or, my pre-Tommy standard "You're my favorite little boy in the whole world," I have to wonder how it affects him.
Things kind of got off to a rough start as Thomas Town (a section of the park dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine) turned out to be kind of a bust - it was all about rides, and Joey is kind of anti-ride right now. He was glad to see my sister Carol when she joined us, but our next few activities seemed to involve a lot of walking in noisy areas of the park and a big crowd at the Dolphin Show, neither of which went over well with the Joe-man.
Joey was starting to ask to go home after the Dolphin show, and I told him we could talk about it more after lunch. Luckily, we found a nice quiet spot to eat lunch, and Joey was able to kind of "reset." He started joking around with Carol and I and his mood lifted. I think a little break from all of the people and noise was just what he needed.
After our ridiculously over-priced lunch, we headed for the butterfly exhibit, where you walk through a greenhouse with hundreds of butterflies. This was more Joey's speed and I think he really started to enjoy himself - he even wanted to go back through the exhibit a second time.
Eventually we ended up at a giant three-story play structure where dozens of kids were playing, and Joey ran right in. Carol and I sat down, realizing we were going to be there for a while. It was good to just watch Joey play - he really seemed caught up in it - you can always tell when he's really having fun because his tongue always seems to be hanging out of his mouth (e.g.: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29222781@N07/4891431967/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/29222781@N07/4872806759/in/set-72157624557800405/). Soon, Joey was running in circles around the play structure, and eventually he ended up playing in the nearby fountain (that's what extra pairs of pants are for, after all).
We had a lot of fun, and definitely wore Joey out, but I think I learned a couple of things: 1) Each boy needs frequent outings with a parent where he doesn't need to share attention and 2) you can't impose your idea of fun on a 3-year-old. After dropping more than $200 to see Discovery Kingdom, my first impluse was to drag Joey to every show and every exhibit to try to maximize our value, but sometimes I think you just have to listen to your kid and go with the flow.
I'm wondering if I should dedicate a separate posting to the subject of what of an overpriced, poorly-planned experience Discovery Kingdom was. For now, I'd just say this - if you're planning on going, look for discounted tickets ($50 for adult, $32 each for kids), carpool (parking is $15 per car), and sneak in as many drinks and snacks as possible (cheeseburger = $12; Diet Coke = $4), and bring a Discover Card if possible (there's a 5% discount on just about everything, and a separate, faster entrance to the park for Discover Card holders). Be ready for long lines, filthy bathrooms and the most confusing park layout and worst signage ever. Discovery Kingdom will make you respect Disney that much more, that's for sure...