When we first moved from Mississippi to Connecticut, we had to spend ten fun-filled days in an Extend-A-Stay while we waited to close on our house.
That time period was so horrific (Two rooms. Four children. One hyperactive puppy. A mother in her seventh month of pregnancy. You can do the math, but I’ll tell you right now the answer will be “horrific“) that we’ve come to pretend it never existed, and any references to it will be obliquely referred to as our time in “The Pleasure Dome”. Ha ha ha.
One of the highlights (or low points, depending on your penchant for storytelling), was a trip the family took to the Mystic Aquarium. Having been enthusiastic members of the Memphis Zoo back down south, we thought that the aquarium would be a nice replacement.
And maybe it would have been. It was, at first, enjoyable- stocked to the brim with all the oceany goodness the kids love. But in family legend it will forever be referred to only as “The time we went to the aquarium and Gabriel threw up all over the beluga exhibit.” Which he did. Right there on the plexiglass beluga enclosure and in the sight of no less than half a dozen strangers. Then several other family members got sick in the van on the way back to the Pleasure Dome, and 5/6ths of us spent some portion of the following 48 hours in miserable, stomach flu wonderland.
Connecticut and I got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning.
Since then, the state and I have kept each other mostly at arm’s length. Once in a while one of us will let our guard down and allow the other to come a little closer, but these truces never last long.
Take today for example.
Not to long ago, I was looking at my Instagram feed, and every single picture posted contained happy children splashing away a hot afternoon at a spray park. No kidding. I saw spray parks represented in no less than four different states. My mature response of course was to get surly and bitter, and to focus that jealousy on the Nutmeg State. Of course it was the Nanny State mentality that prohibited us from seeking refuge from the brutal heat and humidity in the wholesome goodness of a spray park. Of course it was the ridiculously high standard of living that meant the rich had swimming pools and central air, and us working stiffs could only make do with the playground at the corner McDonald’s.
If couldn’t possibly be the fact that I had never bothered to look up “Spray Park Connecticut” in a Google search.
When I finally did just that, I was shocked, shocked!, to discover that there was, in fact, a spray park fairly close to us, over the mountain in West Hartford. So I parlayed this new information to five children who enthusiastically cleaned the house in order to find out what “the big surprise” was, and then we loaded up into the van and made our way to the park.
On the way there, I warned the kids not to expect much. Maybe a single water stream shooting out of an extremely padded, non-skid, gluten-free, certified organic area, but nothing else. After all, this is Connecticut. It certainly would not be the sort of spray park they’d had access to in Mississippi. The kids nodded absently and looked out the window, hearing nothing out of my mouth but the words “spray park”.
Which is good, because when we got there, we were greeted with a spray park of respectable size, and with a regular park attached to it! Both parks were fully gated (thank you!), shady, with real bathrooms and ample seating.
We easily found a whole bench (in the shade!) to ourselves, and the kids promptly kicked off their shoes and started happily running around, while I sat back and started people watching.
The more I looked around, the more I fell in love with this little section of Connecticut.
The Puerto Ricans were there, playing frisbee in the grass next to a white tattooed couple. There were a group of Jamaicans grilling something in one of those park BBQ things. A large knot of Arab women, wearing hijab of bright pink scarfs, caused Joaquin to come running to me, insisting that there were nuns at the park! The whole thing was such a glorious mix of cultures that it reminded me of our old house in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
I sat there basking in the warmth of an unexpected truce with Connecticut as my children played happily in this little bubble of diversity and silliness.
Then the sound of an extremely loud burp somewhere to my immediate right broke my reverie. One of the Puerto Rican children, stumbling by me on the rubbery playground sidewalk, stopped, bent double, and started throwing up. Everywhere.
I jumped off of my bench to try and help him, along with every other mother in that park. The heads of all us mothers were wobbling around, trying to find the poor kid’s parents. There- a woman, running toward her son with the same look I had on my face in the Mystic Aquarium- an awkward mix of concern, compassion, disgust and embarrassment. She hurried her boy away, while all us other mothers looked at one another briefly, then began rounding up our kids back to our respective vans, promising McDonald’s or some other bribe, anything just to put some serious distance between ourselves and the now bevomited spray park.