It’s Saturday night and we just got back from a family outing to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN. It was a special treat, a reward to my younger kids who memorized 1 Corinthians 13 this fall semester. It was our first time visiting.
Let me tell you. Having fun is exhausting. At least this kind of fun. For those of you not from around here, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the Tourist Towns of the Smokies. Pigeon Forge (which we drove through to get to Gatlinburg) is one long strip of amusement attractions: minigolf, outlet malls, go-cart racetracks, ferris wheels, exotic museums, dinner-and-a-show places, buildings that are made to look upside down, a Titanic looking building, buildings with King Kong on top of them. It’s quite a sight. We have never taken our children to any of these attractions, but they were all quite delighted just to drive past all these crazy-looking places. My five year old exclaimed, “This is the funnest road ever!!” It was bumper-to-bumper traffic and by the time we got to Gatlinburg the traffic was barely crawling along. The sidewalks were overflowing with people, the parking lots and garages all had FULL signs on them and I felt a bit like I was at CARNIVAL or some such occasion, instead of a Saturday during Christmas break.
I am curious if it’s always like that, or was it just crazy because it’s Christmas and New Years? I wouldn’t know. Even though Gatlinburg is only an hour away (or so my GPS claims), I rarely go there. I haven’t driven down the main street in Gatlinburg in probably 8 years. Mostly because it’s just as I described it. Very touristy and full of people. (If you like touristy and lots of people, it is a very pretty little town, and everyone did seem to be having a lot of fun!)
So, after we finally found a parking place about a half mile away from the aquarium, we maneuvered our nine children through large crowds (my oldest didn’t come….boo on her…yes I know you’re reading this sweetie…love you anyway!), and spent several hours at the aquarium. (When you fork out for 9 children to go to an aquarium, you figure they better look at every single exhibit and enjoy every single activity!) We split up, my oldest boy taking the next two oldest boys with him and my teen girls pairing up, but even then I still managed to lose the four year old once, got a bit snappy with my husband over who was watching which child, and ended up bribing all the kids with candy at the end, when we had to wait in line to pick up our family picture (conveniently taken for you when you first entered the building), (extra money, but we wanted photo evidence that we had had fun). Despite the hiccups, it was a successful trip.
We hiked the half mile back to the car, me holding tight to the four year old who hopped, skipped, and jumped as he careened down the sidewalk. We finally got to the car and I felt my shoulders lower about ten inches as I slowly relaxed from the stress of taking small children out in public. When we were leaving the parking garage, the traffic was so bad that we couldn’t turn left to go home the way we came, we had to turn right instead and just go with the flow. Which is why we ended up driving home a completely different way, through the Smoky Mountain Park to Wears Valley then Townsend then Marysville… The quiet side of the Smoky Mountains. My favorite side. Where we always end up when we go to the mountains. I needed that drive. The entire time we were in the park, the road ran right next to the river. There is something about flowing water that soothes the soul, calms the spirit, refreshes. There was mist on the mountaintops and the naked trees were gray and felt like winter. This was my idea of a nice time.
I am fortunate that I married someone with similar tastes to me. (Or maybe I just became so accustomed to my husband’s preferences, that I adopted them as my own). When we go out to have fun, we generally do something in nature. We’re not real keen on large crowds. I have never been to Dollywood, and I don’t really want to go. When there are big fairs or festivals, we skip. The Tennessee Valley Fair is held two blocks from our house every fall, and we have never gone. It’s just not our idea of a good time. But, we go to the river and splash around in the water. We go canoeing. We go biking. We take walks. We watch movies at home. We take long drives in the countryside. This is the kind of activity that I need to nourish my soul, refresh myself, relax.
As far as the kids are concerned, I don’t think it’s hurting them to miss out on all the “fun”. They do get opportunities every once in a while, like today, when we visited the aquarium. And having that kind of treat happen rarely makes it a lot more special.
So, hurray for trips to the aquarium, and Thank You Lord that they don’t happen often!