Camping in Fairyland.

Notes on fatherhood.
June 24 2002 5:43 PM

Toddler Heaven

Camping in Fairyland.

On the edge of a new adventure
On the edge of a new adventure(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

Last night Tallulah and I went camping in Fairyland. Fairyland is a toddler-sized Disneyland smack in the middle of Oakland. Three times each summer it sells tickets to about 25 parents and allows them to pitch their tents, and their toddlers, inside the park. For the first time in their young lives, 25 small children have a chance to spend the night under the stars or, at any rate, the skyscrapers that loom over Fairyland. A few months ago I mentioned to Tallulah that we might do this, and she has been unable to contain herself on the subject ever since. Every other day she has asked me, "When are we going camping in Fairyland?" or "Can we sleep in a tent up today?" She's never been camping or slept in a tent and can't possibly know what any of it means. That is why she wants so badly to do it.

Matts, Tallulah's partner in camp
Matts, Tallulah's partner in camp(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

We enter not through the main entrance but through a gate in the back of the place between the miniature Ferris wheel and the bumper boats. Twenty-five parents and their toddlers line up and wait for the gate to open so that they can rush in and find the softest, most-level patch of grass to pitch their tents. In line are Tallulah's friend Matts and his father, John. John is the reason I am here; John told me about camping in Fairyland. John, who has done this once before, also told me that I didn't need to bring anything to Fairyland except a tent and sleeping bags: Fairyland would take care of the rest. But John, I notice, carries many more possessions than I do. I have only three large sacks; he has eight. What is in those other five sacks, I wonder? What does an experienced Fairyland camper bring with him that I have neglected to bring?

Llamas, in Tallulah's world
Llamas, in Tallulah's world(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

The gates swing open and the other families rush to find the best spots in the dish-shaped campground. Tallulah is more interested in the fact that she appears to have Fairyland entirely to herself, and she rushes off past the Ferris wheel to pet the donkeys. The great thing about Fairyland, from the point of view of a 3-year-old, is that it is designed with a 36-inch-high person in mind. The horses on the carousel are designed for a 36-inch-high person, the cars in the steam train are designed for a 36-inch-high person, the long tunnel in the Alice-in-Wonderland section is designed for a 36-inch-high person. It's a home explicitly for children between the ages of 2 and 5; any ordinary 7-year-old is made to feel unwelcome. With one exception, it is a Lilliputian world drawn perfectly to scale. The exception is the donkeys. These large animals, which Tallulah claims are "llamas," are also surprisingly aggressive. I rush after her and quickly lose any chance of securing a comfortable place to sleep. By the time I herd Tallulah back into the saucer, all of the soft, level places have been taken. We'll be spending the night on the hard, steep slope just below the rim.

Tent city
Tent city(Digital images sponsored by RadioShack)

All the other fathers have their tents looking very tentlike. These are elaborate affairs, with great huge roofs and fancy walk-in entrances. The man in the tent beside me not only has his tent up and running, he has a fantastic contraption that looks like a giant fire extinguisher and sounds like a pneumatic pump. He's huffing and wheezing over the thing like a pro. He is inflating what appears to be a full-sized mattress inside his enormous tent. I do not own one of these. I have never even seen one of these. My tent is still in its sack on the ground.

Tallulah looks around, then at me.

"Where is our tent, Daddy?"

"It's in there." I point to the blue sack.

"Why?"

"I haven't put it up yet. You want to help Daddy put up the tent?"

"I want to go see the llamas."

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