Time passes one brick at a time

Yesterday we took the boys to the new Legoland Florida theme park. The boys had an amazing day, judging by their smiles, laughter and my over-exuberant uploading of photos to Facebook.

Carla and I couldn’t help but reflect on our two previous visits to that property, each in a very different set of circumstances.

Barron and his cousin, Kalee
Barron and Kalee at Cypress Gardens in 2005

Before it was Legoland, the 150-acre site was Cypress Gardens, one of Florida’s first theme parks, built around the natural beauty of Lake Eloise, meticulous and exotic gardening and incredible feats of skill on water skis.

I moved to central Florida at the age of 12, and had been to the park numerous times before Carla and I visited in 1996 while we were still dating. Carla was down to meet my family for the first time and see what many tourists spend thousands of dollars during vacations to experience.

During that trip we visited the Magic Kingdom, which stood in stark contrast to the aging and low-key Cypress Gardens. Leisurely strolling through the gardens hand-in-hand was a welcomed change of pace from the crowds at Disney, but other than dozens of photos of each other in front of various plants, waterfalls and other natural phenomena, there wasn’t much that was memorable from the trip.

The next time we visited, it was about 10 years later. Carla and I were married, and Barron was 4 and Harris was just a baby.  Cypress Gardens had been sold, refurbished, upgraded with new rides and reopened as “Cypress Gardens Adventure Park.” My brother and his family went with us, so Barron had his cousin, Kalee, to go on the kiddie rides with.

There are few pictures of the natural beauty, and almost none of Carla or me. We have dozens of images of Barron and Kalee, looking cherubic in their poses, but I don’t think we spent much time in the gardens.

Our boys at Legoland
Our three boys at Legoland

This time, Cypress Gardens had undergone the biggest transformation of all. Engulfed by the new Legoland identity, the gardens are still there but they are relegated to a corner of the park. We didn’t even go into the gardens during this visit. We were too busy admiring plastic brick creations, shuffling our boys between rides and taking in Lego-themed shows.

Carla and I took turns pushing the stroller, which alternated carrying Carlton and our backpack. As my Facebook friends can attest, we have more than a hundred photos, only one of which has Carla and me together. I don’t think we held hands once the whole day.

Life just isn’t about us anymore. With three kids, we spend our time, money and energy being parents and making memories for our family. It doesn’t even occur to us to think about what we want to see, ride or do during a day at a theme park.

The Wallaces at Legoland
The Wallaces at Legoland on Island in the Sky, Carlton's favorite ride.

In a way, Cypress Gardens and now Legoland is a door frame for us to put pencil marks on, measuring our relationship’s growth.

Who knows when we’ll be back or what life-changing circumstance will have occurred before our next visit. I do know that if the boys have their way, it will be soon.

Have you ever been to Cypress Gardens/Legoland? What was your experience like? Is there another place that helps you measure your life and growth? Share it with us! Leave a comment a below.

Build yourself a merry Lego Christmas

That children inherit certain physical and personality traits from their parents is indisputable. Carla and I are both planners and list makers, so it should be no surprise that our children follow suit.

However, I am having trouble explaining the borderline mental disorder that has beset my children this year as they compulsively write and rewrite their Christmas lists. Never mind that they are completely focused on the “receiving” rather than the “giving.” So far those lectures have fallen on deaf ears.

Harris and Santa
Harris visits Santa, operating from memory without his Lego list.

And let’s also set aside the fact that they already possess enough toys to stock a discount super store. The children’s marketing machine that is Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel has convinced them there is so much more that they need.

I remember that it wasn’t so long ago that my own list was more than socks, underwear and an Amazon gift card. Growing up, my brothers and I compiled lists consisting of Atari games and Star Wars action figures and their requisite battle equipment. It wasn’t that we didn’t exhibit the same level of greed and self-involvement; it’s just that there were real limits. The problems children face today in compiling their lists is that their options are literally endless.

Long gone are the days my father used to describe when Christmas gifts from Santa were whatever could fit in a stocking and were highlighted by citrus products. A new bicycle or the now infamous Red Ryder BB Gun was a gift of amazing magnitude.

Lego dragon
Unleashing Lego on Christmas has resulted in a lot of indecision in my household... and sore feet.

Now, such “large” items are afterthoughts behind a dozen different video gaming systems, both home and portable, action figures from every movie that hits the silver screen and the bottomless pit that is the Lego franchise.

Ah, Lego. Here’s where my children really struggle at honing their lists. Back in my day, my brothers and I had a couple of boxes of Legos with which we constructed houses, cars and other rather rudimentary contraptions from our own imaginations, or a limited number of suggestions from pictures on the box.

No longer. Lego has a fully-customized set for all the same movies that produce all those action figures, complete with their own little action figures with removable accessories. The execs at Lego have figured this game out, and parents are parting with more and more of their hard-earned cash only to spend Christmas day re-creating movie sets.

Carlton and Santa
My Christmas list includes seeing more smiles like these from Carlton.

There are so many numbered Lego sets to choose from, they can’t narrow down their selections. Barron and Harris both have submitted lists that look like nuclear missile launch codes. Barron even typed his on the computer. When Harris found out we were seeing Santa last Sunday after church, he panicked because he didn’t have his list of Lego set numbers with him.

So as you cajole your children into narrowing their Christmas lists, allow me to offer mine. With apologies to Amy Grant, here’s my grown-up Christmas list:

  1. Peace on earth, etc.
  2. Patience to build complicated structures and apparatuses out of plastic bricks
  3. Skill to read blueprints and schematics for building with plastic bricks
  4. Money to pay for the plastic bricks
  5. Awareness that this phase of life passes all too quickly and that the memories made this year for my children will strengthen our bonds and make for good stories sitting around the dinner table as they grow into adulthood.

So what’s on your or your children’s Christmas list this year? What’s this year’s “Must Have” toy or gift? Leave a comment below and share your Christmas joy/pain with us. I promise it will help you feel better.