Thrill rides don’t thrill my daughter. She’s never loved them. From the beginning, even the shaking horses outside of stores would get me the “Why are you doing this to me?” look while she vibrated.
Still, since she’s as stubborn as her mother, she kept trying things, and sometimes would find love. Motorized swings have always been a joy. The parachute ride at Wild Waves caused happy giggling, even when she was 2. Frog Bounce at the Family Fun Center was right out. And roller coasters were a screaming, horrified terror from her very first try.
But she’s kept trying.
She will grit her teeth and decide that she’s not afraid today, dangit. And she will try almost anything. Whether the result is tears or delight, the ride seems secondary to the attempt. She seems to get the most enjoyment out of doing it even when she didn’t want to.
So our recent trip to Wild Waves started with a bang as she rode the new zip-line ride with her aunt.
It was a great success. They flew across the park at 28 miles an hour while I held my breath, but she arrived safely, all triumphant thumbs-ups and smiles. She also had a certainty that now that she’d done that, she could do anything.
So we got on that blue spinning vomit-inducing thing I absolutely hate.
From the moment it started, it was awful. She shrieked and sobbed and clawed at me and begged me to make it stop. Putting aside my own fear of heights and hatred of this ride, I unclenched my white knuckled fists from the handles so I could hold her hand and rub her back. I told her that I couldn’t make it stop, but that it would be over soon. I continued to repeat this to her for the eternity that the ride went on.
(I have since been told that they will stop the rides for panicked passengers, but apparenly this ride operator did not notice her struggle.)
When it was over, I carried my hysterical child to a bench and held her until the sobs subsided. It took much longer than usual. As I stroked her hair while she clung to me, I fet a strange reverse deja vu. Finally, I remembered my husband stroking my hair while I clung to him, hysterical, the first time my daughter was sick when she was a baby.
In that moment, I was frozen by the realization that parenting is the thrill ride I can’t get off.
You go into it sure that you can do this. Whether you’re afraid or excited, you’re going up that clicking first climb all during the pregnancy, and for the most part, it only gets more exhilarating as you get closer.
Then, the bottom falls out.
Through the loops and sharp turns and corkscrews, through illness and injury and heartbreak and fights, you feel sick to your stomach and dizzy. And before you know it, you’re back in the loading area, moving them off to a new stage, like preschool or full-day elementary. Or college.
But instead of letting you off, the ride operator sends you on another round. And then another. And then another.
It doesn’t matter how you scream or beg, this is not going to stop. Ever.
The only way through this ride is to start to enjoy it. To know that each down is countered by an amazing up. To learn that the fall does not mean doom, but another thrilling rise. To hold the hand of the passenger next to you, or to let go and lift your hands above your head and scream out your terror and wonder.
When she was done crying, we rode her beloved parachutes, and then she was ready to try the wooden roller coaster for the first time. It wasn’t great. She put her head in my armpit and gritted her teeth the whole time. Afterwards, her aunt asked her what she’d thought of that one.
Her reply? “I liked everything except for the ride.”
Oh, my little one, I know how you hate not knowing why I laughed when you said that. Don’t worry. Someday you will. Even as I laughed, you were teaching me. And to teach you something in return, I’m sure that you’ll eventually learn to like the ride, too. I know that I certainly have.