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Paying for Harry Potter
to bond with my daughter

We all treasure the opportunity to spend extended time with our adult children, and that often means cramming an outing into their busy schedules or providing a feathered nest into which they can occasionally escape.

And sometimes, although it will cost you, the bonding makes it worth the expense.

Last month I wanted to plan something special with my college-age daughter for her final winter break before she graduates in May. I suggested a relaxing weekend at a Florida beach; she one-upped me with a four-day trip to Universal’s Harry Potter World, as she is a big fan of the books.

To be honest, a crowded Orlando theme park is not my vision of fun in the sun which usually involves a chaise lounge, a magazine and a Mai Tai. Most of my friends shook their heads. “You haven’t read a single ‘Harry Potter,’” one of them said. “And you hate roller coasters!”

But my daughter kept forwarding me links to the website. “Hopefully I’ll have a job next January and not be able to take off,” she said earnestly. “The next time I may have a chance to go is when I’ll be taking my own kids.”

What the heck. I signed on, (luckily snaring off-season rates) because, to me, isn’t that part of what parenting adult children is all about: meeting them on their terms; giving up control, letting them make decisions? Not easy for many of us after all those years firmly at the helm of Mission Control. Why not seize an opportunity to become a fellow traveler–even one who ends up footing the entire bill?

First it was time for some role reversal, as my daughter became the teacher and I her (clueless) student in a crash course in “Harry Potter 101.” There was no way I was going plow through all those hefty books before our pilgrimage, so four nights in a row, she insisted we watched the DVDs. As we sat together on the family-room couch, she provided a running commentary on the key plot-twists, occasionally yelling at me to stay awake.

After we got to the park, her expert tutorials made it possible to delight in every amazing detail–from the screaming plants in the Hogsmeade’s shop window to Hagrid’s Hut. Together we bonded over the fantasy of Ollivanders’ Wand Shop and recovered from the scary, motion-sickness-inducing “Forbidden Journey” ride in the Hogwarts castle. After that, she graciously agreed to pass on the adult roller-coaster and asked only that we go on the kiddie one. (“You can open your eyes and stop screaming,” she reassured me when the ride ended.)

Because we stayed at an on-site hotel that gave us early entrance and skip-the-line passes, we were always done Potter-ing by 1 p.m., just as the crowds began to swell. That’s when we headed poolside to relax, read and sip tropical rum cocktails, decompressing before we both launched into another busy spring semester.

In the wave of a wizard’s wand it was over, and we went from Potter World to real world: the bone-chilling cold of Boston, where we moved her back into a dorm one last time. Surprisingly I didn’t tear up as I’d feared (and had, while writing the last tuition check).  Maybe it was the afterglow of bonding over Butterbeer (not beer at all, more like cream soda). Maybe it was realizing, once again, that when children grow up, they don’t necessarily have to grow away. We can keep improvising new ways to experience the crazy, unscripted roller coaster of life together, every magical chance we get.

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