Turning 29 for the 9th time was a total blast! To tell the truth, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of turning 29.
I woke up Sunday morning to a wonderful Birthday Song serenade from my fantabulous husband and my two precious Baby Belles. I went downstairs to find a cream-filled Krispy Kreme doughnut stuffed with lit birthday candles and a tall, icy glass of Diet Sun Drop on the side. Nope, birthdays don’t get any better than that.
After breakfast, I reverted an additional 19 years back in time. My beloved asked what I would like to do on my birthday and—with family fun in mind—I said that I either wanted to go to the movies or the water park. We couldn’t agree on a movie, so we donned the swimsuits and headed for Jungle Rapids.
A quick side note here: Baby Belle 1 calls the water park Jungle “Rabbits,” so Scott and I started doing the same. Of course, we completely forgot how literal toddlers can be, so Baby Belle 2 was under the impression that “we were going to see the bunnies.”
For those of you unfamiliar with present-day Wilmington and the Wilmington of days gone by, Jungle Rapids is our one and only water park. Actually, I guess that’s not entirely correct. Many, many moons ago, there was a rusty and rickety amusement park at Carolina Beach called Jubilee Park. Jubilee Park also sported a waterslide, but the thing looked like it was constructed of ancient Lincoln Logs and one look at it just screamed liability.
No, Jungle Rapids was the “safe” waterslide because it was built into a hill that had been especially constructed for the purpose of holding the slides and therefore looked a little sturdier. The water park consisted of three “big” slides and one “baby” slide. All of the slides had names: There was one called Alligator Alley and another one was called Crocodile Aisle and, please God, if any of you boys and belles remember the other two names, please, please, please let me know because it’s about to drive me and my brother even crazier than we already are. The three slides emptied out into a big wading pool and the baby slide emptied out into a separate little wading pool so the little kids didn’t get trampled by the older kids scrambling out to get back up the hill.
Alas, Jungle Rapids was denied to the Culbreth kids for a while. My mother was convinced that all water slides were death traps, so my brother and I would ride by in the car with our faces pressed desperately against the glass of the car window as we watched the kids splash happily into the water.
I can’t remember what broke the dam (probably exhaustion from incessant pestering), but Mom finally capitulated and let us go. She dropped me and Ethan off, we paid way too much money for our string wristbands and our chewed-up foam mats and we were off to the races.
I can’t remember if it was the first or second run down the hill, but blood was drawn early on in the game. Turns out the wading pool swimmers landed in was pretty darn shallow, so noses, knees and elbows were at high risk. Thus began a long tradition of incurring scrapes and bruises at Jungle Rapids that we desperately hid from Mom in our fear that she would rescind her consent to let us go.
Many, many more moons passed and the original waterslide was torn down to make way for a go-cart track and a ginormous indoor arcade. A while later, a water park was built in the back, but I was grown and working and—although I do adore harrowing water sports (hurricane waves totally rock)—the “new and improved” Jungle Rapids simply wasn’t on my to-do list between moving and law school and all of that fun stuff.
Prior to my birthday trip, Baby Belle 1 went to Jungle Rapids a couple of times with our neighbor and her children. Baby Belle 1 tends to be a bit...spastic...when it comes to water, so I was pleasantly surprised when she came back wanting more. Baby Belle 2 is completely unfamiliar with the thing that we mere mortals call “fear,” so I knew she’d be ready to rock and roll any time.
So, we showed up all eager in our swim togs and took a survey of the land: There was a great baby pool area for the little squirts. There was a lazy river and a hot tub for the less adventurous or the completely exhausted (as the case may be). There was a wave pool and a mild thrill ride called the Volcano for the slightly adventurous. There was something called the Toilet Bowl that made you circle the drain in a giant dish before getting sucked down a tube and there was this horrible, giant slalom/skateboard ramp kind of thing that I honestly don’t think I would have tried in the most bulletproof days of my youth.
So...guess what? I’m old as hell.
I realize that I’m stating the obvious, but I’m having a dumbass epiphany so humor me: Those waterslides are really fast for all of the climbing you have to do to get on one of the damned things. Baby Belle 1 wasn’t interested on getting on anything more thrilling than the Volcano and that turned out to be just fine with me because it had about forty less stairs than the other two waterslides.
There is also another blessing/curse aspect of the new and improved Jungle Rabbits: Large double and single inner tubes are provided for the slides. On the plus side, the tubes allow for a much safer ride by preventing the cuts and scrapes one would otherwise be desperate to hide from their worried mother. On the other hand, those tubes are an unwieldy nightmare to haul up the gobs and gobs and gobs of stairs.
Let’s also not forget the Kamikaze Factor: Baby Belle 2. That kid trips me out. Twice, she sat on the edge of a pool or a stair and I told her to wait right there because the water would be over her head. Each time she looked me straight in the eye and slid right off into the water and was as mad as a hornet each time I picked her up. I’m thinking that the teen years with her are going to be the catalyst to my demise.
Here’s the thing: Yes, I was mighty sore and tired by the end of the day, but I loved seeing my kids squeal with delight as they splashed around. I loved watching my husband play with our daughters without the limitations of time constraints and nagging chores. The water was nice and cool—but not too cold—on a hot summer day and I must admit that I had one of the best soft pretzels that I’ve had in a great long while (I’m a soft pretzel connoisseur of sorts). Also, even though it was a long way to the top and a quick way down, the ride was seriously fun while it lasted.
Yes, it’s like Baby Belle 1 said in the parking lot on the way in to the water park: “Mama, you’re the only grown-up I know who has a birthday at Jungle Rabbits.”