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By Pamela Miller
The commercials are incessant, insistent, mesmerizing. Come to a magic land and be enchanted with loveliness, twinkling lights and caramel apples. Everyone is invited, including the dog. Those lucky enough to make the journey will return with stories to share for decades to come. And did we mention it's affordable with just one swipe of a magic piece of plastic. (Go ahead and check your mother's wallet. She has such a piece of plastic. Just don't bend it or run it through the garbage disposal.)
The very young are unaware of words like recession, depression and mortgage crisis. Your average three-year-old is also unaware of Ponzi scheme, Fannie Mae and point spread. The words they do know are theme park, stuffed animal, and money. Kid money isn't like real money. It seems magical, bits of paper and coin exchangeable for toys and trinkets. You want to give the children happy memories, but you're stuck with the very real issue of affording the dream vacation.
And here is where things get fun. A three year old doesn't have any real concept of a vacation. Further, they aren't going to remember going to France. It may as well be a small town in the hinterlands. You repeat the story of that great trip to Six Flags, and they won't get that you simply put up a few flags in the back yard. The trip in the submarine was really the drive-thru car wash. Apocryphal stories become true, and by the time the kid grows up, he'll think you spent a mint on his early years.
False Memory #1: Niagara Falls and beyond
Borrow a raincoat and douse the kid in the backyard with a hose. Take an extreme close up photo to block out the fact that there is no waterfall in the vicinity, and your child will someday buy you took a wonderful trip on the Maid of the Mist. (Alternative: Dress your kid in a bright yellow slicker to pretend you took the Copper Mine Tour in Bisbee, AZ. Again, you must take an extreme close up if your backyard isn't mountainous and sunny.) To fake the Scottish Highlands, go out on an overcast day. To fake a trip to the Forbidden City, take a few photos in front of your favorite Chinese restaurant. (Just make sure your photo doesn't include the daily specials.)
False Memory #2: Beaches near and far
Invest in cans of pink and white spray paint, powdered drink mix, a sand box and a kiddie backyard pool. Fill the pool with water, then add blue raspberry powdered drink mix. You want the water to look so blue it's unearthly. Then move the sand up to the edge of the pool on one side and spray paint it pink. A few fake flowers, a turtle you borrowed from a neighbor, and you've got Bermuda right down to the surf, flora and fauna. Place the kid on the sand and take a few snap shots. (Don't put the kid in the water unless you want to have an uncomfortable discussion with the authorities as to why your kid turned blue.) Wait a week and tell your kid you're going to Florida's emerald coast. The sand is white, the water is green, and you can use the same turtle and flowers. Unless your kid's grows up to be a botanist or a herpetologist, you should be able to get away with this one.
False Memory #3: The Islands
For a trip to the Galapagos, all you have to do is actually take your kid to the zoo. They have tortoises; you have a zoom on your camera. Easter Island takes a bit more work, but it will be worth the effort. Papier-mâché a few giant heads, poke them with a sharp stick, and get a friend to take a photo of you holding your little one while staring up at the sky. It's all in the perspective. Sigh when you bring up Ibiza, Curacao and Fiji. You wish you had photos, but that was when the camera was stolen or lost or used for ransom.
False Memory #4: Disney
While it's true that a Disney vacation shouldn't cost a fortune, it would be better if it didn't cost anything. Just take your kid to the Disney store in the mall, plop him down on a mountain of stuffed animals, and sing "It's a Small World" in the language of your choice. (I opt for Swedish, which is the best language for impromptu sing-a-longs. You don't really need to know the words; you just have to sound Swedish.) The staff and other customers will take it from there. The whole store will burst into something approaching universal joy. Your kid will be drooling on toys you have no interest in buying. And you'll be taking a few photos, knowing that this will be the crowning achievement of your parenting years: faking a small bit of happiness for the least amount of money.
Copyright © 2009 by Pamela Miller
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Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Miller