You'll feel like you're falling but you're not. That is, unless you're Julia.
Oh, I'm sure Disneyland's nice and all, but its claim to be the happiest place on Earth is patently false. After this year's vacation I can authoritatively say that the happiest place on Earth is Tyler Place. Disney has rides and shows and character dining — which incidentally makes me think of nothing so much as that old PBS show, Meeting of Minds, Steve Allen's brainchild, a kind of talk show where actors playing historical figures from different eras would come together and plug their latest declaration of human rights or this new heliocentrism thing they were just getting into or maybe their upcoming beheading. I mean I cannot think about character dining — and what a phrase, now that I'm on the subject, totally devoid of any of the trademark Disney magic. They might as well call it Continental Breakfast Served in Relative Proximity to Slender Young Woman Chosen for Resemblance (Eyes, Giant; Nose, Miniature, Jewellike) to 2D Animated Possibly Anti-Feminist Focus-Grouped Fictional Heroine and be done with it —
Wait, I got lost. Oh, I know: I was saying that I couldn't think of Disney character breakfasts without imagining an appalled Cinderella seated between Martin Luther and the Marquis de goddamn Sade and that's probably not what the nice people in marketing intended, but that's where I always end up.
And to bring this back, finally, to where I started, I'll allow that Disney holds a great deal of attraction for many young families on vacation. Tyler Place, however, has its own inimitable brand of magic. It's called They Care for Your Child While You Lie Around in a Hammock.
...Or, if you are me, Ditto Ditto While You Attempt to Reach a Hammock That Certainly Looks Attainable, But Slip on the Algae-Covered Rocks, and Take a Bath in the Slimy Shallows of Lake Champlain and Then Crouch Behind Some Surfboards Until Everyone Else Has Left the Area Lest They Discover What a Fool You Are, As If You Hadn't Already Made That Eminently Obvious During Karaoke.
Not shown: My algae-slicked ass, visible waves of shame
Every morning, I walked Charlie to the clubhouse, where he met his group for games, swimming, a boat ride, crafts, fishing, and, I don't know, learning to bring down a full-grown buck with his bare hands, his teeth, and a sharpened popsicle stick. (Charlie was always enthusiastic at dropoff and pickup, but somewhat vague about the details.) And Paul delivered Ben to Jane, our one-on-one parents' helper, a supremely pleasant and responsible woman about my age who strolled him around the grounds, let him explore in the grass, held him in the wading pool, encouraged him to crawl with the other babies, and let him eat bits of chocolate cake or Cheez-Its or possibly lumps of Play-Doh. ("He wouldn't eat his fruit or bread," she'd say, "so I gave hi—" "Fine!" I would boom, "Just fine!" Because unless she was about to say plutonium, really, how could it not be?)
(Ben, not Paul. Paul rarely eats Play-Doh anymore.)
Then Paul and I would go to breakfast, meeting my mother in the dining room, and possibly Julia and Steve, and afterward move on to leisurely pursuits like yoga or tennis or the low ropes course, an exercise in trust and team-building that I failed spectacularly. I would like to say in my defense that Julia needed dropping, but I'd be lying; in fact I was just inadequately braced when she fell my way like a human bowling pin. To atone for my failure, I was selected as the first to fall backward from a five-foot platform into the waiting arms of my teammates. Luckily Julia was on the other team and could not therefore "accidentally" fail to catch me. Steve was on my team, and perhaps he felt the fall had done Julia good, because he didn't drop me, not even a little, although now that I think of it his "Oof!" when I landed was perhaps a bit theatrical. But that could have been in retaliation for the time a fellow camper had approached him and, wide-eyed, asked him — I swear to God, she said this — "You look like a movie star, but I can't think which one. Which one is it, do you know?"
"Kathy Bates," I helpfully supplied, when Steve seemed too flustered to answer. But tell me: Am I wrong?
So after lunch Paul and I would collect Ben and Charlie and spend the afternoon together. Trampolines, mini golf, pony rides, biking, or, when it rained, stretching out with a book.
Sometimes just us in the afternoon, sometimes meeting up with friends.
(Photographic proof that there were at least ninety seconds of his vacation that Patrick enjoyed. Unless that smile is actually a rictus of loathing.)
After playtime the kids would go back to their groups or their parents' helpers to go on a pirate voyage or see a marionette show or vandalize townspeople's mailboxes or — look, isn't it clear by now that I don't actually know what they did or ate, just they came back fed, tired, and happy? And that that is enough, more than enough, an embarrassment of parental vacationary riches?
Because while they were doing these things, Paul and I were having cocktails and dinner with other adults in the dining room, no kids allowed. (A funny thing I heard was that someone had learned about Tyler Place by Googling "dinner without kids." Not that it worked for me. And, no, Google. No, I didn't mean that.)
It was an amazing impossible gift of a week. I loved having my mother there, with time for her to enjoy Ben and Charlie without the work of keeping them. I met some truly lovely people and had time to get to know them as people, instead of primarily as Chloe's mom — four Chloes that week — or the father of Jacob, Joshua, or both. I got to watch Charlie ride a zip line, got to hold Ben as he kicked happily in the pool, had afternoons to revel in my kids being kids without simultaneously thinking, "What godforsaken sludge do we have in the freezer that I can pass off tonight as dinner?" It was a real vacation, and how often do those come along for a family with small children? Happiest place on Earth, and speaking of cryopreserved biomatter, if Walt Disney disagrees, I hope that somewhere in Heaven, Thomas Aquinas, or at least Steve Allen, is punching him in the face.
Oh, and I don't have any pictures of Ben at Tyler Place, probably because he was so busy romping through daisies or feeling the breeze on his face during a pontoon boat ride or perhaps stroking the silvery flank of the tamest of pegasus unicorns or something, who cares? it was fun, so instead here's one of him in his new favorite pursuit, moving furniture.
On a quotidian basis I find it sort of annoying, the way he pushes everything around so that it blocks the doorways, but I bet during a zombie attack he'll be a useful person to have around.