The Lizard Who Ate Orlando


vacation adventuresSometimes the best thing you can do for your work is get away from it. A week’s vacation did the trick; even though I’m up to my neck in laundry and an overflowing email inbox, I’m refreshed and happy to be back at my computer.
I was reminded of a trip we took a few years back that started in sunny Florida and ended with a short cruise to the balmy Bahamas. Before we set sail, we spent one day traipsing through Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando. We planned a strategic route through the parks to make the most of the time we had there. As we walked from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter toward the Jurassic Park rides, we came across a row of carnival games—the kind of sidewalk attractions that lure kids in with stuffed animals and games that seem easy on the surface but are, in fact, nearly impossible.
Our then 9-year-old son, Adam, was immediately drawn to a game with three basketball hoops mounted high above the ground. He asked if he could have five dollars to shoot three balls, and my husband agreed. As soon as Adam took the ball in his hands, I worried that he’d be disappointed when he came up empty-handed. He loves basketball more than oxygen, and missing three shots in front of a crowd of onlookers would be tough on a boy’s ego. The hoop was much higher than his basketball goal at home, and the rim looked smaller.
He launched the first ball into the air with all the strength he had, and we watched it arc up, up, and then swoosh—through the net with ease. Everyone, including the man running the game, stood there in stunned silence for a moment. Then we burst into applause, wondering if it was just a fluke.
Adam’s second shot bounced hard off the rim. Making one shot would earn him a small prize, and making two shots would allow him a choice of any prize in the stand. He took aim once more with the ball and shoved it skyward.
Swoosh! Again it fell through the net, as if it was the easiest game in the world. I glanced around at the other parents who’d stopped to watch and they, too, looked shocked. Like us, they all anticipated defeat because adults know carnival games are typically rigged to work against us and our wallets. But Adam didn’t know that. And I don’t know if he made those two shots because of the countless hours he spends shooting hoops in our driveway or simply because he believed there was no reason why he couldn’t.
Regardless of the reason, he was a winner. The man motioned toward the sea of stuffed prizes behind him and told Adam to choose whichever one he wanted. Adam scanned the choices and pointed toward the biggest one of the bunch—an overstuffed dark green lizard with lime green spots. The man wrangled the lizard down from its perch and handed it to Adam, who beamed with pride as he realized his five-foot lizard trophy was even bigger than he was.
Then we had a new challenge on our hands. How were we going to get through two theme parks with a giant green lizard in tow? And how were we going to get it back home? It was definitely bigger than the plane’s overhead bin.
One of the theme park workers said we could have the giant lizard taken to the park’s front gate so we could pick it up at the end of the day. One problem solved. The second issue was trickier. After our day at the park, we took the gargantuan reptile to a UPS store to have him shipped back to our house, but his size made it an expensive option. Note to fellow parents: It will cost more than 60 dollars to ship a free lizard across three states.
So we lugged Adam’s lizard back to our rental car and decided to take our chances at the airport. On the day we flew home, we schlepped the spotted reptile up to the airline ticket counter and explained our dilemma to the woman checking bags. She assessed the situation, taking note of the proud 9-year-old master of said lizard, and said she’d just check in the lizard along with our luggage—no problem.
We smiled and thanked her and she smiled back in a way that told me she, too, was a parent who understood the giant lizard was more than just a prize. It was a symbol of a boy’s personal accomplishment. And we would have hitch-hiked all the way home with that lizard on our backs if we’d needed to.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Send comments to her at rockwoodfiles@cox.net or write to her in care of this magazine.

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