Monthly Archives: January 2014

13 Things I Learned at Great Wolf Lodge

The Burts family decided to take a little trip over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The resort, which contains an enormous indoor water park, is a 2 ½-hour drive from where we live, but we had never been before.  I had heard great things about it from friends and coworkers, so I wanted to give it a try.  We had a really fabulous time, and I thought of 13 things that I learned about me, my family, and about Great Wolf Lodge on this trip that I would like to share with you now.

1.  Despite 16 years of touring with the Air Force Band, I am still a horrible packer.  For a 2-night trip, we had enough beer for 4 days, enough clothes for 5 days, and enough snacks to last us a week and a half.  I have a friend who traveled throughout England for 2 weeks and brought nothing but a backpack.  I can’t even imagine how that could be done!  I don’t think it’s possible for me to pack without throwing in all sort of extra things “just in case.” My mother also packs this way, so I’m blaming her.

2.  If you pack a case of Fat Tire, you should also pack a bottle opener.  But if you happen to forget the bottle opener, don’t sweat it.  You can pick one up in the gift shop for $6.  And then you have a nifty adults-only souvenir to remember your family-friendly trip.

I will now think of our vacation fondly every time I open a beer.

3.  I have absolutely no self-control at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The only real restaurant at the resort is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and everything was awfully good.  I can’t seem to eat at a buffet without eating until I am in pain.  Why do I always do that?  It’s not like it’s my last supper!  I guess I just feel the need to try everything.  I was actually proud of myself that I only ate one dessert this time, but I was still in pain when I left.

4.  We found the customer service at Great Wolf Lodge to be great.  Everyone we dealt with was friendly and helpful.  (Except for maybe the Magiquest employee.  See #8.)  We only had one issue, and it was a weird one.  When we first checked into our room, the guys were beyond excited about sleeping in bunk beds, so they went to explore those first.  My husband put his hand on the bottom bunk and went, “Huh.  That’s weird.  The blanket is wet.  Oh, the sheets are wet, too!  Man, the whole mattress is soaking wet!”  We sniffed it, and were pretty sure it wasn’t pee.  So what on Earth caused that to happen?  Did someone spill a big bucket of water on the bed?  And why did the housekeeping staff make the bed even though it was wet?  Who knows!  But within 15 minutes we had a brand new mattress and bedding, so at least it was fixed in almost no time at all.

5.  The Wolf Den is a pretty cool idea, even though there are no actual wolves in the Wolf Den.  There are a number of different types of suites at the resort.  We stayed in a “Wolf Den” suite, which is basically like an ordinary hotel room, but instead of a second queen bed, there is a set of bunk beds surrounded by an enclosure that is decorated like a forest.  The guys loved it, and fought over who got to sleep on the top bunk first before we even left the house.  I made a rule (which was our daycare provider’s brilliant idea) that on our trip down, whoever asked any “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?” type of questions would have to sleep on the bottom bunk first.  They both made it without asking any questions, but SB skirted the rules by making a lot of comments like, “We have 46 more minutes to go!”  Since it wasn’t a question, I let it slide.  Thankfully, SB graciously let his younger brother go first on the top bunk.  But really, Great Wolf Lodge, would it be so hard to put a simple DOOR on the Wolf Den enclosure?  That way, when SB wakes up at 5-0-something, I wouldn’t have to listen to him talk to himself and make stimmy noises.  You can tell the kid to go back to sleep because nothing is open until 9 am anyway, but it won’t help.  He just doesn’t need much sleep!

AB is checking for wolves as he climbs up to the top bunk. And this must have been taken soon after we figured out that the bottom bunk was all wet.

6.  The machine in an arcade that provides you with “Tokens,” “Credits,” or in the case of Great Wolf Lodge, “Paw Points,” should actually just say, “Empty Entire Contents of Your Wallet Here.”  Let’s just be realistic about this, shall we?

7.  If your 6-year-old has won “The Claw” game twice in his short life, then you should probably take him with you to buy lottery tickets.  I really thought that no one ever actually won “The Claw.”  AB won a stuffed yellow Angry Bird a year and a half ago, and we thought that was pretty amazing.  Then this weekend he won a stuffed Om Nom.  If you don’t know the significance of Om Nom, read this post here.  AB is pretty darn excited, and is also completely spoiled because he now thinks he will win “The Claw”every time he plays.  Maybe he will.

Oh, Om Nom. You are so cute, yet you can be such a pain in the ass!

8.  The employees who work at the Magiquest store should do a better job of explaining things.  Like, what the hell you are supposed to be doing, for example.  We had absolutely no idea how the Quest games work, and got no directions at the store.  We had a little pocket-sized instruction book with microscopic print that we tried to read in the dark hallways set aside for the game.  We ended up spending the first hour annoyed and irritated, and we hadn’t even acquired any runes yet.  Also, SB’s magic wand wasn’t working properly, so he was understandably frustrated.  Through trial and error, we slowly figured the game out.  And, after another trip to the store, we learned that SB’s wand top had become loose, and all we needed to do was screw it back in.  (Would have been nice if someone had told us about THAT, don’t you think?)  The guys played the game several more times throughout our stay, and they liked it all right, but were not able to gather all 9 runes that are required to be able to fight the dragon and beat the game.  The whole thing is quite a money-making ploy for the resort.  You have to buy the magic wand, and the instruction book, and then pay to “activate” the wand, and then a special wand topper is optional…see #6 above.

SB performing some magic with his wand.
When awakened with a magic wand, this creepy green lady was actually very helpful as we tried to figure out what on Earth we were supposed to be doing.

9.  Six years of swimming lessons FINALLY paid off!  SB was braver on this trip than I’ve ever seen him.  As recently as 2 years ago, he was completely unwilling to put his head under water, or even have anything drip or spray on his head.  This made what he was willing to do in water parks pretty minimal.  But this weekend, he put his head under water, and was also willing to climb up the structure with the huge bucket that dumps on everyone every 15 minutes or so, and also sprays things at you from all sides as you climb up.  He went down several water slides by himself, and not just the kiddie ones.  We all did one slide together that seats four people in a round raft.  It was pretty fast, and at the bottom he declared, “I didn’t like it!  It was too tilty!”  But amazingly, he didn’t get that upset about it.  We praised him for trying something new, and assured him that he did not have to go on it again.  AB and I went on that one two more times, and had a ball!  (AB is usually not scared of much.)  I was so proud of SB for being so brave and willingly trying all sorts of things I didn’t expect him to.

SB went down BOTH of these water slides! The orange one AND the green one! Willingly! At his suggestion!

10.  Elton John should sue Great Wolf Lodge for Copyright Infringement.  There is a nightly show in the lobby of the resort followed by a bedtime story, and the kids are encouraged to attend in their pajamas.  I use the word “show” very loosely.  I had no idea what the hell was going on, so I’m sure my kids didn’t, either.  There was an animatronic Native American girl, an animatronic Frontier Boy, some animatronic talking animals, and there was some sort of message about not being afraid of nature.  There were several songs performed throughout the show, and one of them was a complete rip-off of “Circle of Life” from The Lion King movie.  The chords and melody were practically the same, even if the lyrics weren’t.  Even SB noticed and asked, “Is that “Circle of Life?”  No, but I think Elton John would win if he took them to court.

I am certain that every one of these little brains was thinking, “Huh? What’s going on here?”

11.  Be careful if your autistic child sometimes gets his verbal instructions mixed up.  This happens to SB periodically.  I will tell him to “put on your shoes,” and when I look at him 10 seconds later, he has not put on his shoes, but he HAS removed his shirt.  And he never seems to understand in those moments that he did not complete the task that was requested.  I guess verbal instructions sometimes get mixed up at some point during the processing in his brain.  So, we were getting ready to leave the water park one day, and my husband handed SB a T-shirt and told him to put it on.  Moments later, we were staring at a buck naked SB in the middle of a crowded water park who seemed completely confused as to why both of his parents were shouting at him to put his swimsuit back on.  Why does this happen sometimes?  I really don’t know.  Also, we have told both boys hundreds of times that their penis is private, and that no one should ever see or touch their penis except for Mommy and Daddy and the doctor.  Really – HUNDREDS of times.  I guess it hasn’t completely sunk in yet.

12.  If you take my children into a craft center with cool projects like painting ceramic piggy banks and decorating T-shirts, they will just play Hangman.  Seriously, all they wanted to do was turn over the free coloring pages and create Hangman puzzles.  And poor SB, who we’ve dubbed “The Autistic Extrovert,” tried his hardest to find a stranger to tackle his Hangman puzzles.  But most of the adults he approached were either helping their older child paint something or trying to keep their toddler from eating the crayons.  He was pretty disappointed that I was the only one willing to play Hangman with him.  At least I didn’t have to buy a piggy bank or T-shirt!  (See #6 again.)

13.  If you visit Great Wolf Lodge during football playoff season, it’s best that your team lose before your trip.  When I first proposed to my husband that we take this trip over the MLK weekend, he warned me that the Carolina Panthers might make the playoffs.  Being from Charlotte, NC, he is an avid Panthers fan, and wanted me to know well in advance that if the Panthers were still in the playoffs during that weekend, he would need to excuse himself to watch the game.  He said, “I know I shouldn’t abandon my family to watch football during a family vacation, but you need to know that if the Panthers are playing, I’m going to have to.”  I thanked him for letting me know, and decided to book the trip anyway.  I was thinking in the back of my mind that if he got some alone time for football, maybe I could get a massage in the spa in return.  Sadly, the Panthers lost to the 49ers the weekend before our trip.  The good news is that I had my husband for the whole weekend.  The bad news is that I never got that massage!

It is not lost on me how thankful I need to be that my family was able to enjoy a trip like this.  Several years ago, I didn’t think something like this would ever be possible, particularly for SB.  The change in schedule, the unfamiliar food, the unpredictability, a water park and an arcade which are both incredibly noisy and over-stimulating, etc.  But he has come so far and learned so much about how to navigate this world that his brain is not designed for.  I’m so proud of both of them, and am thrilled that we had such a successful weekend.  When you are a parent, the most fun thing in the world is watching your children have fun.  And when your child grabs your hand on vacation and says, “Mommy, I wish we could stay here forever,” then that is just pure bliss.

This game was called “Oliver’s Time Challenge,” and was a favorite of both guys. The goal was to hit more lights faster than the guy in the red room next door in 60 seconds. They could have done this all damn day.
They had the funniest little bowling alley I’ve ever seen. The pins were attached to strings so that the machine could stand them back up quickly. It was very efficient. The guys finished 10 frames in about 8 minutes using cute little 5-pound balls.
AB wearing the menu/mask from a nearby restaurant we decided to try in order to avoid the whole “eating until you are pain” thing one night. The buffet was better.

Holiday Letter 2013

Merry Christmas from the Burts family!  SB is now a big 3rd grader, and

doing pretty well in school.  Appropriate classroom behavior can still be a

challenge for him, but he has improved with the help of his ABA therapists

and teachers working together.  We are so thankful that we have an

elementary school and a principal who support this collaboration, because we

know Simon has benefitted dramatically.  Although quirky, he seems to be an

accepted member of the class.  AB is in first grade and doing great, not

needing very much special education support at all.  Both guys are making

friends and getting better at play dates.  They are definitely each other’s

best friend, which is awesome, but when they are together they create pretty

strange play activities that only they understand.  For that reason, we

decided to separate them this year in before and after school care, hoping

to give them even more opportunities to practice socializing with their

typical peers.  AB still goes to the same home daycare, and SB goes to

a before-and-after care program at the school.  He loves it, and usually

doesn’t want to leave at the end of the day!


After 2 ½ years of attending a Tae Kwon Do class adapted for kids with

special needs, the boys finally made enough progress to earn their first

belt, the Advanced White Belt.  That went well enough that we decided to

transition them to the regular Tae Kwon Do class, which is going pretty

smoothly so far.  We will miss the supportive and patient Adapted

instructors, but are happy to moving up.  They have also become big video

game junkies.  They play Donkey Kong on the Wii and Plants vs. Zombies on

mobile devices for as much time as we will let them!  And both have recently

become big fans of the Star Wars movies, much to Charlie’s delight.


Both SB and AB participated in the Christmas musical at our church,

which was no small feat!  Last year we pulled SB before the performance

because he just couldn’t get his behaviors under control.  (It’s kind of

ironic for the guy with perfect pitch to have to drop out of the musical!)

The fact that both were able to handle the singing and the choreography this

year is pretty amazing, and shows that both are making progress.


I am in my 17th year playing clarinet for the Air Force.  Due to

Sequestration and the government shutdown, the Air Force Band didn’t get to

do any traveling this year, and our performance schedule was slower than

normal.  We are hoping that performances will pick back up in 2014.  When I

retire from the Air Force, I plan to become an elementary school librarian

and have completed 4 classes so far in my Master of Library Science degree.

It took me a while before I got into the groove of being a student again,

but I think I have a handle on it now.  I am also still writing in my blog

on occasion,  I have not become the famous

blogger with the magazine columns and book deals that I dreamed about,

but writing is therapeutic, and I enjoy it!


My career collided with Charlie’s for one day this year, when the Air Force

Band performed a concert at Lanier Middle School.  I had the honor of

performing a solo with the band, guest conducted by Charlie.  We had a

blast!  Charlie also had the opportunity this year to be a guest conductor

at a clinic for band students in North Carolina.  This summer he returned to

UNCG’s Summer Music Camp staff after being away for 7 years, and had a great

time working at the camp and catching up with old friends.


In September I had the awesome opportunity to attend a professional

conference on autism, with Dr. Temple Grandin as the keynote speaker.  If

you don’t already know who that is, Temple Grandin is the first person with

autism to become an accomplished professional, and to become famous because

of it.  She has a PhD in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State

University.  She is also a bestselling author, autistic activist, and

consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.  The conference was

awesome, and I was inspired to hear her speak.  During the Q and A, an

audience member asked her what was the one thing her mother did for her that

helped her the most.  “She stretched me,” was her reply.  Dr. Grandin

repeatedly talked about how her mother pushed her to learn to play

turn-taking games as a child, pushed her to learn manners, and pushed her to

get a job as a teenager to learn job skills.  It made me happy to hear her

say this, because sometimes I wonder if I push my kids a little too hard.

How much should I push my children to be like “typical” people, so that they

can learn to live in our society and have a happy, productive, independent

life? And how much should I accept them for who they are, quirks and all,

and expect our society to be understanding of their differences? I worry

about this every single day.  Where is the line? I have a very difficult

time finding it sometimes.  I enjoyed Dr. Grandin’s take on the subject, and

was also happy to get a picture with her and a signed copy of her latest



May your Christmas be joyous and your 2014 be full of peace and prosperity!

Happy holidays from the Burts!