Growing Up OC: Atlantis Play Center

I haven’t run a Growing Up OC article in quite a while, but have had some brewing in the back of my mind. Today my daughter’s summer day camp went to Atlantis Play Center, and since that was one of the places I loved as a kid, I was delighted to discover it is still around.

As a kid in the 70s, Atlantis Play Center seemed like a magical wonderland. It’s most memorable feature for me was the dragon slide. How could you not love that thing? It seemed like it went on for miles and miles, through bushes and under trees.

Danny the Dragon

Danny the Dragon

As I remember it, there were shrubs all along the sides of the slide and the “big kids” would run through and behind the bushes from the bottom back to the top. There were little “trails” from where the gardeners walked, raked and cleaned the falling leaves, and these always made me want to sneak around in the bushes. We would play games of hide and seek, or just hide and surprise our friends. When I was younger, I envied the big kids who would go play on those trails. When I became a big kid – maybe a whole year later? – I was so excited to do exactly that.

During construction

During construction

Here’s a great image of the dragon slide during construction of the park 51 years ago. That’s right, Atlantis Play Center is 51 years old! All I knew was that it seemed like we drove forever to get there (we didn’t) and that the park was gigantic (it wasn’t). However, it is no slouch in the space department, being placed on 4 acres in central Garden Grove, CA. We often went with the neighbor’s, Leslie & Karen, Robbie & Timmy, other kids I can’t remember. I do recall we once had a picnic next to the Viking Ship.

Land, ho!

Land, ho!

In this image, you can see in the background right the bushes that used to cover the dragon slide. This is the Atlantis of my childhood memory. These days, there are splash pads available for fun and play. The entrance fee is only $2 per person with kids under 2 free. I’m sure for kids today, as for kids of days gone by, it still inspires the imagination and generates hours of fun!

See the City of Garden Grove for more details on Atlantis Play Center, including directions & FAQs.

As a funny side note, when I was in high school I played basketball and our team played in a scrimmage up at Bolsa Grande High School, which is right across the street from Atlantis Play Center. I ended up catching a ride from this one girl who I idolized. She had a junker old car, and as we made the left turn from the school onto Westminster Blvd, she accidentally drove on top of the narrow center divider – driver’s side wheels on one side of it, passenger side wheels on the other! We laughed so hard we cried! After that, she talked to me at school and made me feel like she “saw” me, even though I was pretty much a basketball dork, lol. I’ll never forget that aspect of growing up OC either…great memories of fun times with old friends.


Imaginary friends

When I was a little girl, we moved from our old house to our new house (where my family lived for nearly 40 years), and I missed my friend Jimmy so badly I would pretend he was with me. He was my imaginary friend at a time I was uncertain, didn’t know the neighborhood kids yet, etc. I think. I have very few memories of this time, because we moved when I was three-going-on-four. I knew Jimmy was imaginary, but he seemed real when we played together. Anyway, one time I was playing and imagining that Jimmy was chasing me, so I locked him in the bathroom. For real. My mother thankfully had one of the special tools that unlock those doorknobs that don’t have a key, and it all worked out. I remember talking about why I had done that with her, and she told me it was ok to have an imaginary friend. Shortly after, Jimmy left my mind and I forgot all about him for many, many years.

Flash forward to about five years ago and I am reading Alive in Wonderland, the blog of Suzanne Broughton, who I met through the OC Register. She was posting hilarious stories about her son’s imaginary friend, SoSo. Ben was four when SoSo came around, married LuLu, introduced Knock-Knock his brother and CoCo his dog. I read these stories with fondness, remembering how Jimmy had been so important to me when I was that age.

Well, about two months ago, Melody met a ‘ghost’ named Cheryl, or Carol if she’s been naughty, who followed her home. Melody’s friend Lily has a ghost that followed her home, as well. Cheryl has stayed around, playing with Melody’s toys, moving things around and otherwise pranking her from time to time and keeping her from sleeping. This morning, Melody explained how Carol had moved the missing piece from the Perfection game so that she (Melody) wouldn’t be able to take it to game day at school. But then, Melody remembered – not in a dream mind you – that the missing piece was on the TV cabinet because she’d been intending for me or her Dad to pay Easter Egg hunt with the pieces. She told me this upon waking this morning. Not remembering a dream.

I could hear Melody talking in her bedroom while dressing this morning, ostensibly having a conversation with Cheryl. In the car, she advised me that Cheryl has a dog (who’s name has escaped me) cat named Teensie and that the dog cat plays with Browser while he is sleeping and that’s why Browser’s feet twitch. At that moment, Cheryl and her dog cat were in the cargo space of my SUV as we all drove over to school. Also, Cheryl and Teensie eat invisible carrots.

Sometimes, Melody will stop in the doorway of her playroom or bedroom, state very clearly “Cheryl, stop it!” and then head off to whatever it was she was going to do in the first place.

Apparently, imaginary friends and/or ghosts are fairly common in the kindergarten set.

Sometimes I worry that because Melody does not have a sibling, she is somehow lacking in stimulation or companionship at home. She often begs us to have friends visit, and when they do come over she begs them not to leave. Are these feelings of loneliness playing out as Cheryl? Research suggests that an imaginary friend for a child is a way to express fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and other feelings that children have difficulty expressing. Most children have encountered an imaginary friend by age 7. Most adults do not have an imaginary friend, because society isn’t ready for Harvey and it is most often seen as eccentric. Sometimes it is seen as mental illness, and that just makes adults uncomfortable. Adults who do have an imaginary friend tend to keep it a secret for fear of stigmatization.

Fortunately, other research suggests that imaginary friends help children in a positive fashion. Children who chat with their version of Cheryl tend to develop language and conversation skills at an earlier age, and high school students who reported having an imaginary friend during childhood had developed better coping skills and resiliency than their peers. So while Dr. Spock might scare a parent into thinking their child has a serious psychological problem because of the presence of an imaginary friend, the reality is that children will likely be just fine.

I turned out ok. I’m pretty sure Melody will too.

100th day of school

Today Melody’s school is celebrating the 100th day of school. That seems so odd to me. When I was a kid we celebrated the last day of school, but never celebrated actually being *at* school. Anyway, her teacher was given a theme for the kids to dress up, and her theme is “dress like you are 100 years old.” Had it been “dress like it is 100 years ago” I’d have that licked without even thinking! But dressing like a 100 year old really stymied me. All the 100 year olds I have known dressed like everyone else.

A friend suggested curlers, glasses and knee highs with a skirt. Here’s what we came up with:

Hello, dearie!

Hello, dearie!

Yeah, she’s way cuter than any of the 100 year olds I have seen, too. I checked with my parents – they live in a senior community – and they haven’t seen any cute 100 year olds either.



Melody did oblige in losing her second top front tooth this morning, so she’s pretty close to gumming her food, right?


Melody and another “centenarian”


What’s that? Speak up, don’t mumble!