When we say parenting has its “ups and downs,” sometimes we mean it literally – particularly after spending a weekend at an amusement park with the kids. Some of those “ups” are slow, tension-building climbs to the top of a steep hill followed by “downs” that reach speeds of 90 miles per hour, flip you upside down and zip you through a corkscrew turn with enough G-force to make you regret every lunch you’ve ever eaten.
I’m the designated roller coaster parent in our family. Tom will occasionally go on a kiddie ride with our 6-year-old, but, as a general rule, he doesn’t get on anything that moves higher or faster than a standard ladder. He says his stomach won’t allow it.
So I ride the scary stuff with the kids while he holds the frozen lemonade and sunglasses. I used to be fine with this arrangement. Thrill rides were my thing. But these days I don’t feel the same thrill that I used to. Ten years ago, I felt a rush of excitement and I’d climb off the ride eager to do it again. But now? I step off the ride feeling thankful it didn’t kill me. Then I just wish I could go lie down and wait for the queasiness to pass.
It’s not that I’ve lost my nerve. I’ve just lost my youthful inner ear. I’ve heard that aging causes inner ear fluid to get sluggish, which causes you to prefer carousels over coasters.
But I wasn’t about to let my sluggish inner ear spoil a good time for our oldest son, who wanted to conquer the lightning-fast beasts at the amusement park. Once he passed the “must be this tall to ride” mark, he started to see roller coasters as a “coming of age” milestone – a chance to spit in gravity’s eye on a ride that’s off limits to little kids.
Once we came face to face with the first towering beast, we both decided we’d ease into the day with a few milder rides first. So we went on the Octopus and the Sea Dragon pirate ship, trying to build up bravery.
Finally, the time had come. We stepped into line for a twisty coaster named “The Boomerang.” While we waited, we watched how it drew its passengers backward up a steep hill, like a hunter drawing back his bow, and then it shot past us in a blur and disappeared into a series of loops and turns until it stopped on another steep hill and repeated the entire sequence all over again – only backward.
“You sure about this, Adam?” I asked, halfway hoping he’d change his mind about proving his emerging manhood.
“Yeah, I think so. But if you’re scared, Mom, we don’t have to do it. It’s okay with me,” he said. And I wondered if he, too, was halfway hoping I’d be the first to back down.
“No, it’s okay. I can handle it,” I said, hoping my stomach would agree. I was not about to destroy my “cool mom” status. So there we stood in tense silence until it was our turn to get buckled into The Boomerang – both of us trying to prove something to ourselves and each other. Adam’s mission? To show that he’s old enough to handle it. My mission? To show I’m not TOO old to handle it.
After a lot of screaming and white knuckling, (mostly by me), we stepped off the ride feeling proud that we’d faced our fear and lived to tell about it. Then we agreed that we’d both had enough fear-conquering for one day and strolled off in search of an equally thrilling lunch.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Author Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography