Sunday, October 12, 2014

Staples and roller coasters...

Who would have thought that staples and roller coasters would end up in a blog post together, but they have. Let me give you some back story.. and some warning... one of these photos is not for the faint of stomach. In fact, I can't look at it very long, myself... and to think I wanted to be a doctor at one time...

So, to kick things off, there are a couple of things you need to know about me to thoroughly enjoy this post:

1) I love roller coasters. I love the thrill, the death-defying speeds, turns, twists, but with the reassurance that thousands of people have done the same thing before me and survived, and that the coasters are required to be inspected regularly. I've even jumped out of a perfectly good airplane before... in 2000 in Yuma, Ariz., with the Army Golden Knights, as a member of the press. I had an expert strapped to my back and the reassurance that it would be a really bad PR move if the guy packed my parachute poorly.

2) My children consider me the "fun" parent. I am the one who plans fun trips, occasionally allows them to stay up as late as they want to on school holidays, and lets them eat dessert for dinner on occasion. I will sometimes spontaneously agree to crazy requests... sure, go play in the summer rain with your water guns. Wait... there's no lightning, right? Being the "fun" parent sometimes conflicts with maternal instincts. Thank goodness my traditional mothering instincts are nearly non-existent.

3) I really hate bloody, ripped skin. Like, really hate it. To the point where I will feel like passing out if I have to watch too long. I'll never forget when a then 5-year-old Will "accidentally" pushed 18-month-old Xan off the bed and Xan busted his chin on the nightstand. Of course, dad was in charge, but couldn't stop the bleeding. We got to the urgent care, got Xan stitched up... and once my adrenaline rush receded, I had to be put in a chair with my head between my legs... light headedness had set in. And I don't even have to see such injuries... I just have to hear about them. Fortunately, Rodney learned this early in our relationship when we visited a fellow Marine of his in the hospital after a motorcycle accident. He had a major injury to his leg, it was wrapped up and all. But I got to hear the, literally, gory details, and I had to excuse myself. So, yep, I'm a wuss when it comes to blood and hospitals.

Now, a quick backstory on Xan: When he was 4 he saw one of those bungee cord jumping attractions at the mall and wanted to try it. I made sure he understood what it all entailed - getting strapped in, jumping high, etc. - and let him watch another kid do it. Xan wanted to do it. I still had Will go first, so Xan could see him bouncing away happily for his three minutes. When it was Xan's turn to get strapped in, he quickly panicked and said he did not want to do it. He screamed, he cried, and refused to jump. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am a tough love parent. You, son, agreed to do this, I paid for it, and you're going to follow through, even if all you do is stand there in the straps and scream for your three minutes. And that's what he did, much to the ride operator's concern. "Are you sure you don't want him to get out?" he kept asking. Nope, I'm sure. He will learn to face fear, be brave, and follow through on his commitments. Sure, he's 4, but you have to start somewhere. I had done something similar with Will... and you saw him bounce happily. Now, the guy behind me in line, standing there with his kid, who was next, was getting agitated: "Well, you're just mother of the year, aren't you?" Absolutely, dickhead, and I have the trophy to prove it. Sadly, I did not say that. Instead I gave him a couple of sentences about my tough love parenting technique having worked for the older child, who does not appear to have any scarring from the lesson. Dickhead was not impressed. After Xan's time was up, we left the mall.

On the family blog in Sept. 2011, I wrote: Xan getting suited up for the bungee jump. He started to cry at this point and refused to jump. I made him stay there since he had wanted to go up until that point. The guy next to me, with sarcasm, said that I was going to be up for Mother of the Year. Obviously he doesn't know me very well.
Now, a backstory of Will's. Long story short: This summer he had an out-of-control mole on the top, front of his head, which we got approved to have removed in the States while he was visiting his grandparents. When the pathology report came back, it was inconclusive for cancer, so the pathologist recommended an additional 2 to 3 mm of skin be removed on either side of the site. We had to return to Iwakuni for the school year, so that second procedure would have to be completed in Japan, either at the MCAS Iwakuni clinic with a visiting military dermatologist, or we would have to be medi-vac'd (sent on the bullet train to Tokyo for three to four days) to a large naval hospital near Tokyo. Fortunately, the dermatologist from the Tokyo hospital was scheduled to come to Iwakuni, so Will would only miss one day of school. We had a two-month window to do the procedure, and the week the doctor was scheduled to be here was the last one in the window. And then a typhoon hit Tokyo and the doctor couldn't come on the scheduled date. We were told we would get medi-vac'd in the next couple of weeks. A day after the originally scheduled date, we get a call at 4:30 p.m.: The doctor was coming for one day and we had an appointment at 10:30 the next morning, on Thursday.

I already had plans that I could not cancel, so the spouse took Will to the clinic... which turned out to be a good idea. I probably would have passed out.

So, after 13 stitches in the States, this procedure took not only stitches, but also 8 staples. Military medicine may be effective, but it's not always pretty. Sometimes you have to remember that you get what you pay for. This was free. I can't look at this photo too long, so let's move on to the roller coaster part of the blog post.

Two months ago I planned a trip with ITT on base, to go to Space World by bus and spend the Saturday of the Columbus Day holiday weekend enjoying roller coasters and other attractions. Of course, planing months in advance sometimes works out... and sometimes doesn't. We didn't get the original appointment date for the visiting dermatologist until five days before the procedure. But Will had recovered quickly from his first procedure during the summer, so I thought that four days rest would be fine for him to enjoy the park. But with the surgery being postponed two days, and the need for staples being introduced, it was iffy. Add on the fact that the narcotic pain meds that the clinic prescribed Will made him nauseous all night Thursday, he ended up missing school on Friday. So Friday night, I wasn't sure Will would be making it to Space World the next day. If we cancelled, it was too late to get our $300 back we had paid for the transportation fee and admission to the park. So, Xan and I were going no matter what. But what about Will and Rodney?

It's the ultimate fun mom's dilemma: Do I make Will stay home and miss it and hate his current life situation more than he already does, or do I let him call the shots and do as much as he feels comfortable with? I went with option two. He's a pretty level-headed kid, and I like to give my kids the option to make their own decisions... until they make a really poor one. Luckily, I have not had to do that often.

When Will woke up on Saturday morning, he had had a great night's sleep and didn't want to miss the trip. So, we put some gauze in a baseball cap and headed off to the bus, which left at 7 a.m., extra strength Tylenol in hand. We had a total of six hours on the bus, so I figured if he got tired, he'd nap. I did make sure that he sat on the bus with the good side of his head toward the window so he could lean against the window easily if he wanted. Yep, Mother of the Year, I am.

The bus ride was uneventful... and full of Disney and Pixar movies. If you love Frozen, Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, you'll love kid-friendly ITT trips. But, we made it to Space World around 10 a.m.

No one was more thrilled than Xan to find out that he was tall enough to go on all of the rides.

Everything in Space World is outer space themed... except for the Lucky Land kiddie portion of the park. There you could find a traditional merry-go-round with horses, a teacup ride and a touch tank with rays in it. I guess the park planners ran out of creativity by the time they planned that section of the park.

But here is what we did:

Like any good Japanese tourist attraction, here are LOTS of cutouts to put your head in for photo ops.

We got on a low-key roller coaster first, to "warm up." It was called the Clipper and kids must be 3 years old to ride. We were able to figure out the intensity of all of the rides by the age or height requirement, which were always in English. The Clipper had some tight turns, and it was definitely a good one to test out Will's staples on. Some items to note about visiting this amusement park:

1) Do not wear jewelry. We had to take off our necklaces and I would have had to remove my earrings to ride on the Venus GP ride if I had understood what the girl at the gate was saying. After miming and charades didn't work, she just let me on. I only know what she had tried to tell me because I tried to ride the coaster a second time later in the day and the guy at gate spoke much better English. I refused to take all three pairs of earrings out for a ride I had already ridden, so Rodney and Xan rode alone.

2) Plan to take off all hats, sunglasses and bags on every ride, storing them in cubbies located where you get on the ride. This is Japan, so we never had anything stolen. No one made any comment about Will's staples. Either they didn't notice or the Japanese are just too polite to mention it or stare.

3) If you are taller than 5'7" and weigh more than 230 pounds, you may have trouble fitting on the rides. The spouse, who is 6'3", bruised his knees a couple of times. These rides are not meant for Big OK people. More on this later.

4) Japanese people generally do not scream when riding on roller coasters. In fact, a number of the runs were eerily quiet... I was wondering if the people were having fun or if they were scared silent. In return, the Japanese probably thought we were scared out of our minds, 'cuz like good Americans, we made ourselves heard.

Xan went on his first "big" roller coaster, choosing one that went upside down, the Venus GP, as his first one. I was so proud. Up yours, dickhead. My mother of the year skills created a confident, adventurous kid who accompanied his mother on every ride she went on... even the Zaturn. But we'll talk about that coaster in a minute.

Xan after riding his first "big" coaster.
Will did not ride on the Venus GP because of it going upside down. His choice, but it was going to be my rule if he hadn't made that decision on his own.

To take a break from the thrill rides, we stopped by the space museum where we saw a lot of moon and astronaut paraphernalia. And, of course, there was a cutout photo op. I really want to go to space before I die, so I hope this isn't as close as I get to it:

After the museum, we found the Space Dome, which housed the Mission to Mars and Black Hole Scramble rides. Mission to Mars is sort of like Disney's Space Tours and the Black Hole Scramble is a bit like Space Mountain. But if you have been on the Disneyland rides, keep your expectations low for the Space Dome.

We also enjoyed the Titan V which reminded me of Six Flag's Magic Mountain's Colossus roller coaster that recently closed, as well as the Boogie Woogie Space Coaster (which, for some reason, reminded me of the Disneyland train coaster, although there were not any mountains or mining equipment). The spouse barely fit in the Boogie Woogie car... Xan finally turned around and told him to stop complaining and tried to push his safety bar down. He managed to squeeze in, but the ride wasn't the most comfortable.

I figured it would be best to feed the spouse at this time. Keep the spirits up, and everything. We were going to go to a buffet restaurant, but we either 1) weren't reading the map right or 2) it was closed. So, we ended up at Lucky's Diner. And, little did we know, Lucky's is apparently the place you go if you want to see the park's characters. We did not, but did anyway. Here the boys are with Vicky Mouse:

Just kidding. Vicky is a rabbit. I mean, seriously, you think Disney would have stood for that? Can you say "lawsuit?"

The characters are... tenacious. They say hello to all members of the family. 

Just a word of warning... the cupcake below looks decadent, but it is extremely dry and not worth the 600 yen ($6) we paid for it. Having said that, we still ate it all. :)

Like the cupcake, the park was all decked out in Halloween garb, and even had a small costume store, with costumes for both kids and adults... unless you are a Big OK adult. Then you're out of luck and need to settle for a headband with ears and a plastic scythe.

The park was not at all crowded. The longest we waited for a ride was 15 minutes. I was surprised since it was a holiday weekend for the Japanese, too. It's not Columbus Day, obviously, but Sports Day. There was a typhoon scheduled to hit Monday, so that may have kept people away, but I'm not sure. We were genuinely surprised by the lack of crowds.

After lunch, we decided to let our food settle before tackling more rides, so we watched the Russian swinging trapeze show. It was a lot of fun, and the perfect thing to do after lunch.

Then it was time to hit the park's crown jewel and scariest roller coaster: Zaturn. It immediately launches you to 130 km (80 mph), sends you straight up 65 meters (213 feet), then turns in to an 83-degree hairpin turn to go straight down, then takes you straight back to the place you started. I timed it. It took about 16 seconds total. Xan couldn't wait, Will didn't want to chance it with his staples, and Rodney... well, Rodney was too tall to ride the ride. The only ride in the park where being too tall was a problem.

The spouse is not a big roller coaster lover, so he was not at all disappointed. That meant it was just me and Xan... who is 8. We get to the coaster and a sign says you have to be 9. He's tall, only has 6 more months until he's 9, and no one asked how old he was. I let it slide. When it was our turn to climb the stairs to the waiting area, we were handed green laminated papers... that had two paragraphs written in Japanese. No other ride had done this. I had no idea what it said, but I hoped it wasn't anything important. I figured if it was super important, they would have one in English...right?

Here is what Rodney got with his iPhone:

I kept my eyes shut the entire time. And it wasn't because I was scared for myself. Sometime between climbing the stairs, getting a green piece of paper and then being strapped in to the ride, my mother instincts kicked in. I, all of sudden, had this irrational fear that my kid would fall out of the coaster and plummet to his death. I couldn't watch that. For a moment while I clutched that green paper in my hand, I even had the urge to tell Xan that we weren't going on the ride. But I held back and applied the tough love parenting on myself. Confront your fear, be brave and follow through on your commitments. So, I kept my eyes (mostly) shut while we were launched up and over the 200-foot hairpin at 80 mph. I listened to my kid scream with glee, felt my stomach jump and my breath be stolen away. I did not have fun. But how do you tell your kid that you would have to ride the ride alone to have fun? Especially when you're the one who conditioned him to be a thrill seeker? Ah... another fun parent dilemma.

Will and his staples got through the day with little fanfare. Everyone slept in this morning, and both boys greeted me with thank you's and telling me how much fun the trip was. Xan wants to go back for his birthday in April. After all, why not celebrate being 9 with a legitimately-allowed trip on the Zaturn? Hopefully my mother instincts will be dormant that day.

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