We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My birth mom didn’t have to pay child support, so we were a one-income family. Most of his money was put toward bills and food. Things necessary to keep us alive and well. He worked so hard, he still does, but I didn’t always get what other kids had.
One of my favorite things in the summer was the pool. He made sure to get me a pool pass every year, and I got every dollar out of it. I went every single day for every hour of open swim. Usually 12-4 p.m. and back after dinner from 6-8 p.m. I loved everything about the water - I still do.
One summer, some time between 7 and 10 years old, my aunt and uncle took me on a trip to the Wisconsin Dells. They took me to a place so magical, I could hardly believe it - Noah’s Ark.
If you’ve never been, Noah’s Ark is America’s largest waterpark. Congo bongo, jungle rapids, flash flood and so many other amazing rides I couldn’t wait to go on. I don’t remember much of the first years of Noah’s Ark, but I remember falling asleep that first night after spending all day in the park. As I laid there with my eyes closed, I could still feel the rock of the water from the wave pool. I get that feeling to this day.
I was small. I’m still only 5′3″ so you can imagine how short I was then, but I wanted to go on all the rides. There was one ride - the point of no return. It’s an almost-vertical waterslide. When you sit down at the top and look down, you can’t even see the slide. For several years, I stood with my uncle Dave at the bottom of the ride next to the height requirement sign, but I just wasn’t tall enough. Finally, one year, the top of my head surpassed the line.
He looked at me and asked, “Are you scared?”
“Yes, but I’m doing it anyway,” I said. And I did do it. I don’t actually remember that first ride, but I’m sure I had a blast. I still get jittery when I climb up the steep sets of stairs for the ride, but I do it anyway.
As the years went on, more and more of our family began coming with. What started as just the three of us, quickly grew. My grandparents have a timeshare that allowed us to rent condos and villas at Christmas Mountain Village. And so the family tradition was born. Every August, as many of us as possible go to the Dells and stay at Christmas Mountain Village.
Five years ago, I was talking to my 5-year-old cousin, Tenny, about a ride she was nervous to go on. Just like my uncle Dave so many years ago, I asked her, “Are you scared?”
Her response was much more mature than mine. “Sometimes, you don’t want to do something because you’re scared, but then you do it, and it turns out you really like it,” she said. She only went on that ride once. But she did it.
We don’t always go to Noah’s Ark anymore. It breaks my heart a little every year we don’t. There’s a part of me that’s still 7 years old and can’t sleep the night before the waterpark. Sometimes we go to Mount Olympus which is fine. We may not go to any amusement parks this year. My immediate family isn’t big on water rides like I am, but luckily, my husband would go on them all day with me.
I leave tomorrow for this year’s trip. The last few years our family’s attendance has gone down. Summer is a hard time of year to get everyone together, especially with many of the cousins being in school activities. While it’s nice there’s enough beds to go around now, part of me misses when there weren’t. I miss playing Catch Phrase around the table. I don’t think we’ll have enough people for it this year.
One of my favorite memories was the year my husband and I spent a night playing euchre against my grandparents. I swear my grandma turned up a bower every single time she dealt. She laughed so hard at my frustration. It’s a memory of time spent with them that I’ll keep with me always.
I worry this tradition is finite. I don’t think the rest of the family understands what this trip means to me. It represents some of the happiest days of my childhood. It’s a permanent reminder that I’m braver than I think I am. More than anything, it lets me throw away my adulthood, even for a weekend, and just bask in the wonder of being a child again.