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A Surprise Trip Left Me All Wet—But Isn’t That Every Day as a Parent?

Parenting has come with a lot of surprises, like peanut butter fingerprints on freshly painted walls, Lego mini figures in the plumbing, and booger stains on the left shoulder of my new work blouse. But I have savored good surprises, too, like spontaneous “I love yous” and unexpected hugs and cuddles.

In a recent attempt to escape the dreariness of winter, I decided to plan a surprise of my own. I spent weeks secretly planning an overnight getaway for my family at a waterpark hotel, packing clothes directly from the laundry and sneaking road-trip snacks onto the grocery list.

Surprising My Family

I stealthily loaded the car, arranged a dog-sitter, and asked my husband to take the afternoon off. All out of sight from the kids.

As soon as I collected them from school on that seemingly boring Friday afternoon, they smelled something was up. Where’s the dog? Why’s Dad home? Where are we going? Why is there a whole entire bag of gummy bears in here? (Now repeat that about 100 million times.)

My teenager had casual plans with a neighborhood buddy, so he was immediately upset that he was going to be unintentionally ditching his friend.

Pretty soon my previous surprise excursions came around to bite me. Okay, one time I told them we were going to Noodles and Company for lunch, and we just happened to stop for some flu shots on the way. So that’s seared into their brains and will haunt me for the rest of existence.

Naturally, even though they’ve already had their flu shots for the year, they quickly concluded: Shots! She’s taking us for shots?! Stop the car! Help! 

About 30 minutes into our mysterious trek not home, they concluded we were going the wrong direction for Grandma’s house. Ditto for Auntie Heather’s.

Amid the nonstop questioning and subsequent panic, eventually, billboards for the waterpark gave my secret away.

But they couldn’t relax and enjoy. Oh, no. Not yet. Instead, they demanded, “Are we spending the night? Did you bring our swimsuits? Who’s watching the dog anyway?”

When that was all settled and confirmed, we checked into the waterpark hotel, found our room, unpacked, and changed into our swimsuits.

But as soon as I stepped one clammy, unpolished toe into the ginormous indoor waterpark, the noise hit me. Dozens of shrieking children. Rushing water. Waves. Scolding parents. Lifeguards blowing whistles and shouting instructions.

And, like an invisible weapon, the chlorine seared my nostrils and made my eyes tear up.

Was this really such a brilliant idea?

A toddler in a bloated diaper rushed past us, trailing a string of snot.

Gosh, what was I thinking?

Suddenly, all I could see were germs. Here it was peak season for sniffles and stomach bugs, and I had literally paid money to bring my family to a bona fide breeding ground for future sick days.

Was that a tiny bit of soreness, festering at the back of my throat?

I pushed those thoughts aside and hauled a cumbersome two-person tube up a jillion stairs. But after screaming my way through a couple rides, my stomach felt queasy and my eyes began burning from the chemicals.

I wondered if our swimsuits would end up weirdly stretched and discolored from the chlorine.

Even worse, I could feel all the moisture escaping my body, from my dry feet to my chapped lips and brittle hair. Within just 30 minutes, every bit of my skin felt parched.

So much for that $175 coupon deal and my weeks of organizing and slinking around. We weren’t even an hour in, and I had written off the whole thing as an unfortunate lapse in my maternal judgment.

But then, with the lukewarm wave pool lapping against our ankles, as we stood on the caustic fake-sand bottom, my gangly, grumbly 14-year-old paused. He turned around and looked me straight in the eye. And he thanked me.

“This was a great surprise, Mom. Thanks for bringing us here.”

And—poof!—just like that, all worries about chapped skin, germs, noise and the effects on our swimwear evaporated as I watched my children scamper off. My doubts and self-criticism gave way to their belly laughs and unabashed joy, as my oldest hoisted the awkward double-tube over his head and called his little brother to join him, and they padded away for hours of togetherness and perhaps even some long-lasting memories.

Typical, right? In the throes of this parenting gig, even though you try your best, you can’t always predict your successes and failures.

But there is one thing you can count on: Surprises.

When not worrying about her teenagers, Jacqueline Miller is writing about them. Her recent work appears in Parenting Insider and on her website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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