We sat around a kitchen table in Orlando, Fla., making the most important decision one can make in Orlando, Fla. Disneyworld or Universal Studios?
The conversation got heated. Voices raised, lips pouted, arms folded. Just as we'd reached an agreement - Universal Studios and its spinoff, Islands of Adventure - some wiseguy had to ask a buzz-killing question: "But what does the kid want?"
Oh yeah, the kid. My 9-year-old nephew Alejandro (not to be confused with my 18-year-old nephew Alejandro) would be joining my husband and me on this excursion. With that reminder, we stopped bouncing around in our mental moonwalk and straightened our respective tie and pearls. But, before the alleged adults could ask the little guy's preference, we remembered who was footing the bill. Back to the bouncing.
That's the whole benefit, after all, of visiting theme parks at our age. They make two 30-somethings like us forget our age.
We hit Universal Studios first. On the ride over, we conducted a bravery meter on our 9-year-old chaperone. No one wants to bring a chicken to a theme park. Nothing scares him, he told us. He loves free-fall rides, digs roller coasters, has even taken part in a human slingshot. All music to our thrill-seeking ears.
One problem. Alejandro won't win a dunking contest anytime soon. He may have passed the bravery meter, but not the height meter. A couple of superhero rides put him at just a couple of glasses of milk shy of riding them. One may not be possible until the kid's voice changes.
"Would you mind waiting for us while we ride them?" I asked little Alejandro in a voice as sugary as the cotton candy spinning in a booth beside us.
His eyes shifted from side to side.
"She's kidding," my husband assured him.
To convince the kid, and myself, I guffawed and threw in several pats on the back.
He redeemed himself on the first ride. After standing in line for 60 minutes, listening to kids whine in four languages, we got to take in "Despicable Me." Alejandro put on his 3-D glasses like the rest of the kids. He secured himself into his seat with all the others. But he experienced the ride unlike any other kid in there. He laughed hysterically, yelled wildly, even commentated loudly: "Watch out! ... Are you kidding me? ... This is crazy!"
His enthusiasm made the formulaic Universal Studios rides so much more enjoyable. We could get along, this kid and I.
Although he ordered a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch and tugged our sleeves in every gift shop, we all but forgot we had a child with us. Even his curious questions didn't seem kidlike. He didn't want to know why the sky was blue, but he did want to know if his uncle knew how to light a Molotov cocktail.
That's why we entered our last Universal Studios ride, worrying about the future of our country. As we cursed the violence of video games, a fire simulation during the ride for the tornado-chasing film "Twister" proved a little too real for our companion. We didn't know it until he broke into tears just outside the ride.
Just as we found ourselves longing for the days when kids dropped F-bombs, not real bombs, his innocence slapped our other cheek.
A few long hugs and a good pep talk took the 9-year-old right out of him, though. Off to Islands of Adventure we went. This is where Alejandro validated his bravery claims. Roller coasters with steep hills, hard turns and sudden falls were met with screams of enthusiasm.
Until an angry "Jurassic Park" dinosaur got involved. Alejandro could handle the thrills, but not the chills. Again, he didn't express his fear until afterward. Again, there were tears.
We took a load off in a cafe at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I picked up a little "butter beer," a beverage pulled straight from the pages of the books and offered it to my nephew. He initially refused the nonalcoholic beverage strictly based on its name. The Molotov world we live in was good again.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was our last ride before blistered feet and rainstorm-soaked clothes sent us home nine hours into our visit. We boarded the attraction with Alejandro sitting between my husband and me. As it turns out, Harry and his pals really know how to have a good time. All was going remarkably well, and then that rude dragon jumped out at us.
On cue, both my hand and my husband's hand reached out to our nephew at the same time. Alejandro laced his fingers through ours and squeezed tight the whole way through. No tears, during or after the ride. The adults were finally happy to be adults.