DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley's son Austin in a waterfall

Our Trip to the Waterpark

For some reason, my kids’ school decided that this year there would be a mid-winter break in addition to all of the other breaks. Of course, I did basically no planning for it because I am barely managing to keep our regular life going, much less organize some big trip. A little over a week ago, I realized that I had no plans for the kids – not even a day trip. So I went online and looked for something fun for us to do.

I found an indoor waterpark with an attached hotel. Lots of my kids’ friends were going somewhere much more exciting – to grandma’s house or to a National Park or even across the ocean. But somehow I convinced my kids that a couple days at an indoor waterpark in Virginia would be awesome. “I’m going to hate it, of course,” I texted a friend, “but I have to do it for them.”

So we drove out to the water park this weekend. Everyone was excited. Everyone except me. My thoughts were spinning as I looked down the highway. How was I going to handle three kids by myself at a water park? What had I been thinking? Tommy isn’t a strong swimmer yet. Was I totally insane to think this was a good idea?

Of course, I also couldn’t stop thinking about the last time I went to an indoor water park. It was a little over two years ago and the kids were really young. Shawn and I had spent the trip rotating between being with the big kids on the big slides and hanging with Tommy in the baby area. It was exhausting and the hotel where we stayed was overpriced and not very clean. But the first night when I was expressing skepticism about the decision to make the trip, he held my hand under the covers and said to me, “you know they will remember this forever.”

He hated it too. But he wasn’t doing it for him, of course.

I thought about that trip for much of my drive down to the waterpark this weekend. I wasn’t doing this trip for me, either.

Because, seriously, I would have to be a crazy person to want to stay in a hotel in a waterpark. The room we checked into this weekend smelled like chlorine and the baby pool was roped off for the first few hours because some kid pooped in it. The food choices consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs and eight different kinds of Fanta. It was not exactly glamorous.

But the kids were thrilled from the minute we arrived. Claire and Austin were overjoyed to go on all of the rides alone and Tommy ran everywhere like someone who’d just won the lottery. At one point, all three of them went down the second-biggest waterslide together as I watched from the ground, sure that Tommy would chicken out. He didn’t.

It was a long first day, but a fun one. We drank three different kinds of the eight Fanta options and we ate meals that mostly consisted of french fries. We went around and around the lazy river. We spent a good twenty minutes all trying to get on one inter-tube. We laughed a lot.

At one point, Claire found another little girl about her age, and they played together for quite a while. “Mama!” she said, “I made a new friend and she’s nine too.”

“That’s great baby,” I said.

“But I told her I had to go,” Claire said, “because I need to play with my brothers.”

“Claire, you don’t have to do that,” I said.

“Well I want to!” Claire said. She meant it. A minute later the three of them were having cannonball contests.

It was one of those idyllic days – not perfect because it was the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been, but perfect because the happiness on my kids’ faces was so pure.

At the end of the day, Claire wanted to go down the biggest waterslide. “Can you come with me, Mama?” she asked.

“No, sweetie,” I said, “you know I can’t leave Tommy and he can’t go on that waterslide yet. He’s not big enough for it.”

“But does that mean you won’t be able to go on it at all?” she asked. She looked really sad.

“No, I won’t,” I said, “but it doesn’t matter. You go and enjoy it with Austin!”

She thought for a moment. “Mama, I have an idea. I’ll watch Tommy and you can go down with Austin!”

I smiled at her and explained that I couldn’t leave her in charge of Tommy with so much water around. I tried not to think about how I should be here with Shawn, and how we should be taking turns with the big kids on the big waterslide. I tried not to let those feelings of “it’s not fair!” pop into my mind.

“I’ll watch you go the big slide from down here,” I said to Claire. “I promise.” I smiled reassuringly at her. “Now go get up there!”

She and Austin bounded up the stairs of the big slide. Tommy and I played in the fountains for a while and I let him take off his lifejacket so he could move more easily. After a few minutes, I searched the line of the big slide to see if I could find them. They were near the top, and we waved at each other. I gave them both a thumbs-up.

And then I turned around and Tommy was gone.

I panicked immediately and started running around calling his name. “Have you seen a tiny blond boy in blue shorts?” I asked a few people, barely waiting for the answer.

Why had I taken my eyes off of him at all? Why had I let him take off his life jacket? What if something had happened to him?

Where was he?

And then I heard a familiar yelp. It was Tommy. He was somehow already at the top of the second-biggest slide, and he was alone. “Hi mom!” he yelled. I didn’t have time to say anything back as he ducked out of sight right then.

Twenty seconds later, he was at the bottom of the slide. He was so happy he could barely contain himself. “Mom,” he said, “that was SO FUN!”

I scooped him up in my arms and held his chlorine-soaked body next to mine. Claire and Austin ran up right then. “It was awesome!” they both said, breathlessly. I put my arms around all three of them. “It think it’s time to call it a day,” I said.

As we walked back to the room, Claire turned to me and said, “mom, today was great. I love this place.”

I looked at my three kids and thought about how often I’d felt overwhelmed by emotion and logistics in the past 24 hours. I thought about how much I had missed Shawn too. I thought about how wonderful and terrible everything had been in just one short day.

Claire interrupted my thoughts. “Mom,” she said, “I think today was a win.”

“Yes, baby,” I said back, “I think it was.”

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • ANNE

    It sounds really fun. I think you are a great mom and claire is so considerate about wanting you to have some fun as well.


    I have been taking walks (since my husband passed away) with a friend who lost her husband 7 years ago when her children were 10, 9 and 8 and she was 36 years old. She is such an inspiration and you remind me of her! She does so much with and for her children. As soon as I read this entry I knew that your children will grow up to be kind, compassionate and understanding. Kudos to you, Marjorie!

  • Vidita Vaidya

    Thank you I needed this so much today. My daughter went off to school and I simply want her to have her happy cheerful mother back and it is so hard to do that to give her the best of me, which is what she deserves after what she has lived through.

    • Marjorie

      God, I think this ALL THE TIME. I just want to be that blissfully happy mom again. But you know what? I was crying last night reading something Shawn had written Claire years ago, and Claire leaned over and patted me on the leg and said, “it’s okay mom.” And then she went back to doing what she was doing. Happily. I think they are just learning to see us as multi-faceted humans who have many emotions. And I think that’s okay.

  • Nicole

    My three kids are just a year younger than each of yours. The effort you put in to creating these special moments, whether at a water park or going to bed, amazes and inspires me everyday. You are such a special person!!

    • Marjorie

      Thanks for the sweet note. Sometimes it’s a STRUGGLE, I’ll tell you that! But, yes, this trip was one that I did out of love, because no parent likes the waterpark!