The Bucket According to Mom

Meet columnist Laura Anders Lee, aka the family bucket list enforcer.

Orlando is my sixth address in 14 years. My husband is a hospital administrator, but you’d think I was a military wife the way we’ve moved around. In every town, I’ve created a bucket list of everything I wanted to see and do (and eat) while we were there. I don’t actually think about “kicking the bucket,” but you never know what tomorrow may bring. I don’t want to be like one of those native New Yorkers who has never seen a Broadway show or the Statue of Liberty. The “we’ll-get-around-to-it-one-day” mentality only leads to regret.

We’re entering our fourth year in Orlando and we have already put a big dent in our family bucket list. I started jotting notes down on the plane after our initial visit and stuck it on the fridge at our new house. We add to it whenever we hear of something cool—whether it’s a fun day trip, a new restaurant or theme park attraction. After talking to friends at the playground, my two young boys asked us to add Monkey Joe’s and Fun Spot, and we obliged begrudgingly.  

For me, getting to know a new place is like getting to know a person—the attitude, the quirks, the mood swings at rush hour. Lucky for us, this area has plenty of personality. You can ride a school-bus-turned monster truck at Showcase of Citrus by day (check!) and hear the Philharmonic at the Dr. Phillips Center by night (check!). Orlando also continues to expand its offerings, not just to tourists but to residents. Audubon Park was recently honored with a Great American Main Street award, and the city just designated the Milk District as part of its main street program. This year, I’m adding 1921 by Norman Van Aken in Mount Dora and Crooked Can Brewery in Winter Garden. I never want a week to go by with my bucket empty.

For me, there’s no greater thrill than experiencing something for the very first time, and I want to share that rush with my friends and family. (How else would I know that my 4-year-old loves scallops and tuna tartare?)

Our first Christmas here, we drove my parents to Blue Spring State Park to see the dozens of manatees that huddle in the crystal-clear water every winter. Hearing their breath at the water’s surface is the most peaceful sound on Earth. Our second Christmas I brought my husband’s 80-year-old grandmother, who hadn’t left her Alabama home in years, to Disney for the first time. The next day, I took my mother-in-law, who’s afraid of heights, on The Orlando Eye. 

Lesson learned: You win some, you lose some. But sometimes the best of times are just beyond your comfort zone, and the bad ideas become your most cherished inside jokes.

My quest for adventure is an inherited trait. My mom is the “Queen of Forced Family Fun.” In fourth grade for Alabama history, she took my brother and me through our entire state to see everything from Helen Keller’s water pump to Peach Park, where a giant peach in the shape of a butt moons visitors on the interstate. 

Last July, I found myself becoming my mother. One Saturday morning after weeks of hibernating in the air-conditioning, the cooped-up kids driving me bonkers, I just snapped. “We’re going to the springs!” 

My husband, Bryan, peppered me with questions. “How far is it? Are there alligators? What if they get tired halfway through?” (In other words, is this really a better idea than golfing today?) 

My 6-year-old, Anders, declared he was staying on the couch in his pajamas all day, so then William, age 4, echoed his brother. 

This called for force. “Put on your bathing suits and get in the car!’’ I demanded. “We are going to the springs. And. You. Will. Like. It.”

Both Kelly Park and Wekiwa Springs were at capacity, so we drove on to Wekiva Island, where we rented kayaks and paddled to the springs. Hours later, guess who didn’t want to leave? The boys jumped in one last time, then another after that. Back in the hot car, my skin still tingled from the cold water, and I felt totally exhilarated. We had experienced something new and exciting together, and for me, there is no better way to bond.

Every January we make resolutions just to break them by February. But my mantra is to seek adventure all year long. When my husband’s eyes plead, “Can’t I just play golf?” or when Anders won’t look up from Pokemon Go, I drag them to the car anyway. There’s too much to see and no time to waste. They’ll thank me later. 

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