Day 33 – LEGOLAND – Joey’s birthday

Saturday 15th September 2018

When we awoke this morning, Sandy and I were the proud parents of our very first teenager. Was I still dreaming? You know that feeling you get when you’re sort of half awake, and your dreams are still there but only fleetingly? Sometimes it’s a bit of a blur, right? Sometimes, the dream holds on for just a little bit before the fog of confusion lifts. I had to let that thought sink in a bit. A teenager. And thus, it begins. This is the moment in history where it all started. History shall recall me waking up on this the 15th day of September in 2018 and thinking it can’t be true. But it is. I’ve met and spoke to many parents over the years whose children are much older than ours. I often ask the question ‘What are the most difficult years?’ Invariably the answer is always the same and typically given right off the bat with no hesitations whatsoever: ‘The teenage years!’ I’ve been bracing myself for this time in my life for some years now. Will it really be that bad? Could our parenting lives be any more of a challenge than they sometimes already are? Are we already sufficiently conditioned for challenging behaviours? Perhaps. Maybe it won’t be so bad. I mean, really. How hard can it be having a teenager?

Sandy and I discussed the situation regarding the missing GoPro for a bit, but we soon changed gears. Perhaps it was time to let that one go. Right now, we have more pressing issues to deal with. One of them was downstairs, probably already playing with his various toys. I went downstairs and poked my head through Joey’s bedroom door (he chose one of the two master bedrooms in this place). I wished him a happy birthday. For good measure, I embarrassed him (or perhaps myself) with an impromptu rendition of the Happy Birthday song, but the one with the funny lyrics: Happy birthday to you, squashed tomatoes and stew, bread and butter in the gutter, happy birthday to you. This made him burst into laughter. We’re off to a good start. Joey is happy and laughing. What could possibly go wrong today…right?

Sandy slipped me a birthday card for me to write on for Joey. It was one with a picture of a cat. Joey loves cats. He sometimes behaves like a cat. He often thinks he is a cat.

One of Sandy’s pre-planned tactics for today was to drip-feed Joey’s birthday money to him in envelopes each with a small denomination of money at a time. I thought this was a brilliant idea. We often use this type of tactic to keep him happy and on an even keel. It could be a small grab back of LEGO, like the UniKitty ones he’s been accumulating over the past couple of weeks. Otherwise it might be a small handful of Pokemon cards or whatever is the spice of the day. Sandy had planned for Joey to receive a certain amount of birthday money today and had prepared all her envelopes accordingly. Sadly, this tactic actually backfired today. We (Sandy) made the mistake of letting Joey know just how much birthday spending money he would receive. This sort of took the edge off the effectiveness of the tactic, since he was now simply waiting to have received the full and final amount. Eventually, Sandy just handed over all the envelopes. We weren’t really deriving the benefit from the drip-feeding tactics anyway.

The big surprise for Joey today on his birthday was a trip to LEGOLAND here in Florida. As it happens, it’s just a forty-minute drive from us along SR27, so it’s pretty much a straight run. Jennifer has known about this for some weeks already and we’ve all managed to keep it a secret from him so far. I expected him to be overjoyed at the prospect of spending a day at what surely must be for him one of the best places on earth. He adores building LEGO sets. Since we arrived here in Florida, he has accumulated Kilograms of the stuff. I shudder to think how we’re going to get it all into our allotted baggage allowance when we fly out of the country in a couple of weeks.

We didn’t tell Joey where we were going. We just told him it was going to be a surprise for him. In the event, he was surprisingly muted about the whole affair. We stopped off at his favourite breakfast restaurant, Waffle House, but he didn’t eat very much. I noticed this but didn’t pay it too much attention. He seemed otherwise perfectly fine. Was that in hindsight the first sign we missed or didn’t pay sufficient attention to?

After breakfast, I filled up the car with petrol and we continued along 27 towards LEGOLAND. The CarPlay satnav uses Google Maps but that wasn’t working today. Our one-month phone plans have expired, and it seems a working Internet connection through the phone is needed for that to work. It was back to my trusty Tomtom Go app instead. We can still use the phones to communicate via Apple Messenger or Facebook Messenger, but that requires we both be connected to the Internet via Wifi. Chances are there will be Wifi at LEGOLAND, but we won’t be able to call each other. That will be a bit of a hindrance but hopefully not a disastrous one.

We often play games in the car to help keep the kids from getting too bored or off their screens. Anything that gets them looking outside the window tends to be good at staving off the carsickness. For the past few days, we’ve played spot the out-of-state license plate. I award them $1 for spotting a non-Florida licence plate. It’s 50c for any further sightings of that state. When I first introduced this game, the kids were both enthusiastic. It cost me the better part of $20 that day but I felt that a small price to pay. Jennifer was keen again this morning during the drive, but Joey seemed uninterested. He was quieter than normal, but I just put that down to it being his birthday and him not knowing how to express himself with the overdose of emotions he was experiencing. Joey often has difficulty expressing himself appropriately – especially in situations where there’s a lot of emotion involved. More often than not, he will say the wrong thing – which could be something hurtful. He seems to do this deliberately a lot of the time. If you didn’t know Joey personally, you might think he was being mean or nasty, but it’s usually the fact that he’s just incapable of expressing himself appropriately. I felt his being quiet in the car was just his way of not being able to process or express the emotions he was feeling today. It has been a long and arduous journey to get to this point where we can recognise what’s going on behind the scenes with him and can truly understand his behaviours. Many a time I’ve had to bite my tongue at some of the things he comes out with. Many a time I’ve been unable to do so also.

When we got close, Sandy did an impromptu eye-spy game to try to surreptitiously draw Joey’s attention to the road signs that showed LEGOLAND was close to us. Still, little to no emotion shown by Joey despite us both being certain he saw the signs. Sandy and I caught each other’s eye. Was he suffering one of his migraines? Was he feeling ill? Maybe it was just an overwhelming of emotions after all. At this point, we were a little concerned – perhaps even a little disappointed at not seeing any enthusiasm for where we were going. Joey often won’t express gratitude or thanks for things. Again, it’s just a part of who he is and what makes him tick. We’re not immune to these things. It can still be a challenge for us to see through it.

When we arrived, we took the wrong turn. That is to say, we followed the posted road sign that indicated we should turn left slightly before the very obvious large and brightly colourful LEGOLAND sign. Even the satnav told us to turn left. The road then veered away from the LEGOLAND property. We drove about a kilometre before having to turn around. Once we followed our noses and ignored everything else, we did eventually pull into the car park payment booth lines. Parking today was to set us back $17. We did explain we were traveling with an autistic child and that we might need to leave quickly in the event we had to deal with a meltdown. The attendant was very nice and gave us a special card to hang on the rear-view mirror. We were then directed along a different path to all the other cars. Had this been Disney or Universal, there would have been more staff directing us from this point but not here at LEGOLAND. We followed the red line on the ground right up to the point it simply stopped. This left us somewhat dazed and confused. It was by no means clear where we should go next. I suggested that Sandy get out and remove a couple of cones, so we could at least park the car somewhere, but I eventually managed to find a spot in the disabled section, which was at least not too far of a walk from the main turnstile. The card on my rear-view mirror had a disabled icon printed on it so I figured it was right. Fortunately, our car would be under a roof. The really nice thing about much of the LEGOLAND car park is that the tin rooves above half the parking spots are covered in solar panels. Those are the preferred parking spots, presumably because they are the shaded ones, which are an extra $7 to park at.

Upon exiting the car, we were reminded that Joey still has an issue with wearing something on his feet. We can’t see any visible problems and I very much doubt there’s any physical problem at all. He has just decided recently that he’s not going to comply with wearing shoes, proclaiming that they hurt him. I’ve tried a few times to get to the bottom of this but the best I can get out of him is that all shoes hurt him all over. Sigh. Already when we get out of the car, the ground is so hot from the 34 degrees Celsius heat (that’s 93 degrees in that weird Fahrenheit scale), that Joey is hopping from shaded area to shaded area to prevent burning the soles of his feet. This represents a real parenting dilemma for us today. On the one hand, we clearly don’t want him to burn his feet. On the other, it’s his birthday and I know that forcing the issue is just going to cause him to dig his heels in and it’ll be stress and tears all around, ruining the day for him and everyone else. I figured I’ll just let it go for now. Sometimes, you just have to hit the wall and feel the pain before the lesson sinks in. With Joey’s stubborn obstinance, however, I was doubtful this was going to be a winning tactic but what else could I do?

Our very first port of call once we were through the obligatory security and ticket checks was the main LEGO shop at the front of the park. OMG, Joey was in his very own personal slice of heaven. He whizzed around the store contemplating all the fun he might have building the plethora of LEGO sets they had on display. I had engaged my wallet protection radar from the get-go, scanning all the prices to see how much of a fleecing I would have to endure today. Fortunately, the prices in the store were the same as those in the regular mortal retail outlets. I half-expected the prices to be higher here but that wasn’t the case at all. I did ask if they had any exclusive LEGO sets – something that could only be purchased here at the park. All they had was a couple of smaller sets that had an individual brick with the word LEGOLAND printed on it. One of the staff pointed out this was the only thing that was unique and purely because of that word LEGOLAND. In the event, those small sets weren’t of any interest to Joey.

We spent a good half an hour in the store. I was drooling myself over the prospect of ‘helping’ Joey build some of the bigger sets. In my mind, I had resolved to contribute some more money to his already accumulated pile of birthday money so that he could buy one of the larger sets. I even scoped out one particular set that I thought would be really good for Joey called the LEGO Boost. You can build up to five different LEGO creations with it – including a cat, which I thought would really attract his attention. You then use a tablet or smartphone downloadable app to code instructions that are used to make it move and do things. From a parenting point of view, it ticked all the boxes and wasn’t as expensive as I had feared at around $160. I was really hoping he’d go for it. Alas. He instead decided on a couple of conventional sets. No amount of persuasion or coercion was going to dislodge him once his mind was made up.

We then ran into a problem. All the stores throughout the park (there are many) will hold anything you buy and send it to the front of the park, so you can collect it at the end of your day. Naturally, this is a huge bonus, as it means you don’t need to tote large boxes with you throughout the park. Everyone thought this was a fantastic idea. Everyone except Joey, that is. He absolutely insisted on taking his bag of LEGO box sets with him into the park. This was causing some stress – especially with Sandy – and I explained to Joey that it would mean that he alone would not be able to enjoy the attractions since he’ll be the one carrying that big bag of LEGO, as it wouldn’t be allowed on the rides. I also added that there was no way he could go on any of the rides with nothing on his feet. He wasn’t budging. The more we persisted, the angrier and more distressed he became. Both Sandy and I are exercising our utmost patience and restraint with him today (we have learned to do this like professionals – others marvel at the level of patience we seem to be capable of) so that we don’t spoil his enjoyment on his birthday. But damn it, he’s not doing himself any bloody favours or making it easy for himself (or us) either.

Sandy had by now almost reached her threshold with Joey. Between his obstinance on the one hand and his lack of gratitude and ‘apparent’ selfish behaviour, she was already losing the will to live. I use the word ‘apparent’ there in quotes as it’s not really as it seems. Once I step back and consider all the facts of the situation, Joey’s behaviour could still be explained away by the magnitude of the situation and his inability to cope with all the emotions. He is after all still autistic, and still deficient in his ability to articulate himself correctly and appropriately. Still, it’s hard to step back and remind yourself of these things when you right in the thick of it with your blood boiling. Natural tendencies to react on the spot still dominate for the most part. This is the real challenge with us and Joey – that constant need to not react with system-1[1] thinking.

After a full hour of being at the park, we actually made our way in full and proper to explore the rides and attractions. It was another scorcher today. The general lack of cover and the fact that most things are outside made it an especially difficult day. Just walking was an effort.

We found the first ride of the day, which was a kiddie’s two-story carousel. This is the sort of thing that Joey tends to enjoy – a gentle ride with almost no thrill component. Once again, I explained to him there was a good chance he would not be allowed to ride because he was barefoot and carrying a large bag of LEGO sets. Once again, he wasn’t budging. Sigh.

Even with very few people in the park today, we still had to wait for the carousel to complete its cycle. We just missed getting on the next cycle also. All up, we were in the queue for about 10 minutes. That’s not long but under the blistering sun piercing down on us, with no cover to shield us from it, the wait felt like an eternity. Jennifer had already given up on the ride and sought shelter elsewhere. Sandy decided she was going back to speak to the staff at the front office to see if there was anything she could arrange for us given Joey’s disposition. He and I did eventually get on to the ride a few minutes after she left. The attendant said he was OK to ride barefoot providing he didn’t plan on sitting on one of the horses that go up and down. Fortunately, Joey wanted to sit in one of the stationary chairs, so I joined him.

When the ride was over, the next frustration of the day hit me. Naturally, Sandy hadn’t returned yet and I had no idea where she was. Since our phone plans have expired, I wasn’t able to call her either. The park had Wifi but one or both of us was clearly not in a strong enough Wifi reception area. Joey and I went looking for Sandy. It was at this point that I was finally able to reason with Joey that leaving his bag of LEGO sets at the front of the park for pick-up at the end of the day was a good idea after all. The heat was getting to him and he rapidly lost interest in carrying the bag around with him. During a moment of clarity (we get them every now and then), I was able to finally understand from him why he was so insistent on keeping hold of the bag right from the start. He was evidently afraid of losing his new LEGO if he let the bag go. I promised that wouldn’t happen and that whatever happened, I would ensure he would go home with his two new birthday LEGO sets. Finally, a problem solved.

When I bought the LEGO sets at the front shop, they were all prepared to tag the bag and have it sent to the front for later pick-up. In fact, they seemed quite bemused at the notion we wanted to hang on to it while we explored the park. I just didn’t have the energy at the time to explain the actual reason we chose not to take advantage of that. What they did say, however, was that I could go into any store anywhere in the park and have the bag tagged and sent to the front for later pick-up. Adjacent to the carousel ride was another shop, so we went in and I requested that they take our bag off our hands for us. Unfortunately, I was told that wasn’t possible. What? Now, I’m already quite agitated at this point. I’m hot to the point of overheating and I’m drained because I’ve had to deal with Joey and his eccentricities this morning. I wasn’t in the mood, so I pointed out that I’d been told this was actually possible by the staff in the shop at the front. All three ladies behind the counter were insistent it wasn’t. That service extended only to the purchases actually made inside the shop in question. I would have to go back to the shop at the front to have the bag tagged. Shit! Not only does that contradict what I was previously told but it also meant walking back in the blistering 34 degrees heat in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go. The park stretches out pretty much in a straight line from the front turnstiles. One of the ladies explained it was because their registers were on a different system from shop to shop, and that they wouldn’t be able to replicate the duplicate receipt needed to staple to the bag. What!? Notwithstanding my annoyance, I politely pointed out I had no issue with them as they were only following their rules BUT that this was stupid in the extreme. There really wasn’t any impediment I could see for them to refuse me the service of tagging our bag. It’s all the same company at the end of the day, right? Anyway, Joey and I trundled off, getting even more overheated in the process. Dripping in sweat, we slouched in to the shop at the front and I asked for them to tag the bag. I explained that I was just in another shop farther into the park, but they refused to tag the bag for me there. “Didn’t you tell me I could do this at any shop anywhere in the park?” The three staff looked at me bemused. “Why, of course you can, sir. They shouldn’t have told you that at all.” I was ready to explode right there on the spot. Cognisant nothing positive would have come from that, I merely politely pointed out that someone ought to speak to the other staff and explain it to them, then. I think my body language was sufficient to impart my feelings beyond those few words.

This incident with the staff at one shop disagreeing with staff at another was one of many examples of where we thought the quality of the staff failed in some way here at LEGOLAND. At any of the Disney or Universal parks, we would generally expect pretty much any member of staff – right down to the cleaners sweeping things up off the floor – to be quite knowledgeable. They always know exactly where to direct you if you ask for a specific destination, for example. They are usually up to speed on all other aspects of park operations as well. We found the staff here to be deficient a few times. A couple of times, for example, we asked to be directed to one of the various quiet rooms that are pin-pointed on the map. These are special places where kids with autism can have a break in a quiet, calm space. There are about half a dozen of these located on the park map. Some of the staff didn’t even know they existed, much less where they were. On one occasion, one staff member wasn’t even able to pinpoint where we were on the map at all with any accuracy.

As first-time visitors, we found finding our way around LEGOLAND somewhat challenging. This wasn’t helped by the maps they hand out. Although it’s a very pretty picture, the layout is relative (as opposed to literal) and not at all easy to read. Some of the print is too small and the icons can be hard to understand. Each time we had to refer to the map, it just heightened our continually increasing frustration levels.

After we had Joey’s bag of LEGO sets tagged, we finally bumped into Sandy and Jennifer again. Sandy was now toting a special access pass. She was mightily impressed with LEGOLAND for this. When she explained we were visiting with an autistic child, they immediately provided her with a special cheat sheet that explained all the sensory information for each ride, how thrilling it was, whether it was in the dark, whether there were drops, etc. The special access pass would permit us to enter each ride or attraction either through the exit or a special entrance, where we would be taken directly to the front of the line. This turned out to be an absolute lifesaver for the entire family. We just wouldn’t have survived without it and would have given up half way through the day and left in a heap of frustration and despondency. Well played, LEGOLAND. This was your finest hour for us today – or one of them.

As we wandered through the park, we stopped at one particular attraction we thought was going to be a winner. It’s a small children’s ride that simply raises six adjacent seats into the air and then bounces up and down a few times. Joey and Jennifer loved this ride at Dreamworld when we went on holiday to the Gold Coast in Queensland a few years ago. Naturally, Daddy was dragged on, so the kids didn’t have to go alone. The centre chair was a larger one just for such situations. Even still, the attendant had to force the single combined lap-bar down with quite a bit of force before it latched on. I could scarcely breathe. At least it would be over very quickly. It is, after all, just a kiddie ride. The ride started, and Joey initially loved it. On the second drop, however, that changed quickly. He was suddenly not happy at all and clinging to his head with his hands. He said his head was hurting a lot. With the migraine problems we’ve been dealing with since January, we’ve become quite sensitive to complaints from Joey about headaches. They have been really quite debilitating in the past for him. When the ride cycle completed, I was focussing on Joey, who was by now clinging to my arm with his eyes shut and his head tilted forward. I was still barely able to breathe myself because of the lap-bar wedging me in. It was pressing right into my groin and was really quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the mechanism used was one that required the lap-bar be lowered another notch before the ratchet disengaged. The attendant had to use her entire body weight to push it down. Fortunately, I have no further need to father children. I walked with a bit of a slump for the next half hour.

Sandy and I thought Joey’s headache might be because of the heat. He was rapidly deteriorating. We needed to get him – and indeed the rest of us – inside to somewhere that had air-conditioning. Just around the corner was a shoot-em-up virtual target ride. It’s the sort where you are sat in a car that moves inside on a track. You have hand-held guns that shoot lights at targets as your car moves throughout the circuit. The more targets you shoot, the more points you score. Our special access pass granted us immediate loading, BUT the attendant noticed Joey was barefoot and insisted he needed something on his feet before he could enter the car. Shit! This was a complication I just didn’t need right now. I looked at Joey. He was still struggling with the heat. Immediately I recognised that trying to force the issue with getting his sandals on was pretty much a direct route to a full-blown meltdown. That was the last thing I wanted or needed right now. I asked the attendant – pleaded, in fact – If she wouldn’t mind bending the rules on this occasion. She said it was in case the ride broke down and everyone needed to walk to safety. I recall thinking that same thing at the Spiderman ride at Universal Islands of Adventure the other day. There was nothing I could do. I told Joey that if he didn’t put on his sandals, he’d be unable to ride. To help him along, I ushered Sandy and Jennifer into a car. Joey sat on the floor – right in the way of all the exiting riders – and started whining to himself. I remember face-palming myself and rolling my eyes. Just what on earth did I do to deserve this? After a few seconds, the attendant nudged me. Go on, she said. We’ll let it go this time. I think she read the situation and took pity on me. That and the fact that Joey was holding up the process of moving people through the system. I nudged Joey and led him towards the car Sandy and Jennifer were in. All four of us completed the ride, albeit joey was still not in a happy place at all.

After we were ejected back out onto the street again, we considered our options. Just ahead was what looked like the structure of a wooden rollercoaster. We walked on a bit and found some shade near the ride’s entrance. I asked Joey if he wanted to ride the rollercoaster, but he made it abundantly clear he did NOT like rollercoasters and would never ride one. Sandy and Jennifer decided they’d give it a go. Joey and I waited for them. Joey was now complaining that the ground was too hot for him to walk on. Suffering myself from heat exhaustion, I had pretty much had it with him. Then it dawned on me I had failed to retrieve the bag with his sandals from the storage racks at the up and down ride. I told him to stay put while I went to get them. Of course, this meant another five or ten minutes of walking out in the full force of the sun. The ground beneath my feet was hot enough to melt lead, and I was close to breaking point. I was really concerned now that Joey might actually be burning his feet or getting blisters. Fuck it! Enough is enough. I’ve tried letting him ‘hit the wall’ to learn the lesson the hard way but his damned obstinance is just too strong. Clearly, the little shit has a capacity to dig his heels in that is great enough to allow himself to get physically injured out of spite. I simply can’t let that happen. Enough is enough. I forced the issue and placed his sandals on his feet – much to his displeasure. He was practically screaming. We were in full-blown meltdown territory. All bloody day I’ve been trying to prevent this exact scenario. Whenever we reach this point with Joey, I know the next hour or two will be a total loss. Not only will Joey be distressed, but it will now mean that everyone’s enjoyment will be affected as well.

Sandy and Jennifer found us. I can only imagine what was going through Sandy’s mind. She leaves Joey with me for less than ten minutes and now Joey is in full meltdown. I told Sandy I was really concerned about him burning his feet. Sandy took Joey’s sandals off and looked at his feet. There were no blisters. There was a scratch but that was from a few days ago. She then took out a pair of socks from her bag and put them on his feet. Joey’s meltdown subsided. Now, of course, I’m kicking myself for being such a shit parent for not having dealt with the situation better. We needed to find another spot inside an air-conditioned building. Across from the Ninjago 3D ride building was a restaurant. We made our way over there. It was noisy and busy inside, but we managed to find a table. We sat there for a while, but it was just too noisy and busy. This wouldn’t do.

We decided it was time to find one of those quiet spaces. It took a few attempts, but we eventually found someone that directed us to the Imagination building. Inside, it was bedlam. There were kids running and screaming in all directions playing in the various LEGO building rooms. We located a staff member and asked, neigh begged, for the special quiet room. We were immediately escorted to a different part of the building. We went through a barrier down a corridor to a locked door. The noise of the mayhem behind us softened until it went away altogether. The staff member unlocked the door and ushered the four of us in. OMG what a difference. The room was calm and quiet. It was nicely air-conditioned. There were a few tables and some chairs, but it was otherwise a plain open space with a nice carpet. On one of the tables was a box with some LEGO bricks. The lady sat Joey down in front of it. He was still whimpering from his meltdown but immediately focussed on the LEGO. She said she was going to find the special sensory box for autistic children and then left us (they actually never did find it). The lights were dim. The room was quiet. The only sound was Joey’s subsiding whimpering and the clicks of LEGO bricks being assembled. Sandy took Jennifer and went to sit in the restaurant. I sat there with Joey. Over the next half an hour, he focussed on nothing but the LEGO bricks as he climbed down from his meltdown. I do have to say the experience (the lack of heat and sensory onslaught) was no less therapeutic for me also. It was blissful. I pulled out my phone and did all those things that calm me down as well. Joey and I sat there in silence for the next half hour at least. He was exhibiting some characteristic autistic behaviours. He was stimming, both verbally as well as physically. Then, without warning, he stopped playing with the LEGO and laid himself flat on the floor on his tummy with his head to one side. It was like he was trying to make as much physical contact with the carpet as he could. He remained there motionless for a good five minutes. I just ignored him and continued playing on my phone. I figured it was all good for him and just what he needed right now.

For the second time today, I was applauding LEGOLAND. This quiet calming space was just what the doctor ordered. After about an hour, Joey was again his happy and joyful self. His meltdown was but a memory. He was jumping up and down with pride showing me the various LEGO creations he had constructed from the box of bricks. Oh, what a difference this made. The contrast was night and day.

The staff here were just awesome. We dealt with two or three staff members during our time in the Imagination building and the quiet room. They all just ‘got it’ and didn’t require any special explanation from us as to what was going on with Joey. One of them even helped me get a much bigger tub of LEGO bricks so Joey could immerse himself even further into his bubble – which was exactly where he needed to be.

Sandy and Jennifer came back from the restaurant but then went off to do another ride not far from this building. It was a VR rollercoaster ride, which did sound very interesting. When they came back, Sandy stayed a bit longer with Joey in the calming room while Jennifer and I went out to do the VR ride. With our special pass, we went straight in. This was one of the more popular rides in the park. I estimated there were about forty or fifty people queuing for it. I suspect the wait time was around an hour. The ride is a single car rollercoaster with four people to a car. You are given a VR helmet to wear and traverse the course virtually as well as physically. It’s an enjoyable ride BUT the synchronisation between the VR screen and the physical rollercoaster was off just ever so slightly a few times. It wasn’t much but enough to render me slightly nauseous at the end of it all. Jennifer’s VR helmet wasn’t working correctly through the entire ride, so she was allowed back in again for another spin. Unfortunately, her helmet wasn’t working at all for her the second time around. I suggested she let the know again but she insisted she’d had enough anyway.

We met up with Sandy and Joey again. This time, he was completely himself again. Bubbly, smiling, cheeky, irritating – the whole nine yards. He was even playing and joking with Jennifer, which is always a good sign. We decided it would be safe again to head back out into the park to see what we could see.

Adjacent to the Imagination building was another children’s attraction. It’s one where you sit in a chair and pull on a rope to make your car climb vertically up a tower. If you let go of the rope, the car gently returns to the bottom again. Both Joey and Jennifer really got a kick out of it. I was totally amazed at just how much fun Joey was having. The difference between him now and just an hour ago was absolutely mind-blowing. To all intents and purposes, he was a completely different child. The calming space had really helped save the day.

We walked towards the next batch of rides, but there was an announcement that all outdoor rides were now closed due to inclement weather. Sure enough, the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm loomed over in the distance. Clouds were darkening with lightning lighting them up from the inside periodically. It was now mid-afternoon. It was time to head back to the front of the park.

We made our way to the package pick-up point, following the herd of sheeple that had also decided the time was right to make their way back to their cars. True to my promise, I took Joey to reunite him with his two birthday LEGO sets, which he was thrilled about. I picked up a $5 LEGO grab bag while there, which tickled him pink as well.

We had separated from Sandy and Jennifer, but I managed to get a message through while I still had Wifi access. I said we’d meet them at the car. They turned up there about ten minutes after Joey and me.

Immediately adjacent to the LEGOLAND property is a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant. I suggested to Sandy that we eat there first and then head back home. After a bit if mulling over the various options (we also spotted a Golden Coral on the other side of the road), we agreed on Ruby Tuesday’s. The food was really very good – and plentiful – but not the cheapest of options. I was around $80 less well-off by the time we were out of there. It would have been less but for the fact that Joey – much to everyone’s surprise – actually tried and claimed to enjoy one of our spicy Buffalo wings. He wanted an order of his own, so we ordered him one. He ate half of one wing from that order before deciding the colour of a piece of chicken wasn’t to his liking. Sandy and I are big Buffalo wing fans, so his order didn’t go to waste.

The drive back home was uneventful. Once through the door, Joey wasted no time in opening his birthday LEGO. He spent the next hour or so in Joey heaven.

During the course of the evening, both kids had some Facetime sessions with some of their Australian friends. That was really nice. Both Sandy and I are thrilled beyond words that the kids are able to keep in touch with everyone back in Australia. Long may that continue.

Eventually, the bedtime routine kicked in. It was a day full of ups and downs but I’m happy to say we at least ended on an up. This parenting gig has turned out to be quite the challenge for Sandy and me. I never can tell whether we’re doing it right or wrong. Who can really say? All we can do is our best and hope that’s good enough.

[1] System-1 is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, System-2 is the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.