Buckle Up and Hold Tight

Fritz has been working hard all year to overcome his fears. Since last August, he’s learned to ride his bike and swim (with his head actually under water) and has overcome his fear of water slides and airplanes. With each new fear he has conquered, he’s found that he actually really enjoys the thing he once dreaded. Sound familiar? There was just one more challenge to face, one more hurdle to jump, one more mountain to climb (insert your favorite cliche here…).

Fritz has always had a fear of amusement park rides. Actually, let’s rewind, because before even trying a real ride, Fritz had a fear of elevators. For several years, we had to take the stairs everywhere because the feeling of motion sent him into a panicked frenzy.

Once he worked past that fear, we tried Lagoon and failed. When he was older, we figured we could finally go to Disneyland as a family. Does it count as a family vacation if Fritz and I spent all three days riding The Little Mermaid ride and exploring the Up campground while everyone else went on actual rides? At one point, we tricked him into going on the Cars ride with all of us and for months afterwards, especially when passing the red rocks of Southern Utah, he’d clutch his armrests, mutter, “Oh no…Cars ride,” and beg me to slow down whenever we drove over 40 mph.

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Last summer,we tried carnival rides and failed (that’s him in the striped shirt obviously enjoying himself). Not only did we fail, but Fritz later noticed this sign and pointed out that we had broken the rules and were terrible parents.

But since this has been Fritz’s Year to Conquer Fear, we knew we had to try again. My siblings love to complain that my mom used to make us earn our trip to Lagoon each summer. That’s right – my horrible, mean mother made us read books to earn a day at the amusement park. And since I am working hard to try to become even half the horrible, mean mother she was, I decided to continue the tradition. Each member of our family had to read 2,000 pages this summer to earn an admission ticket and most of us succeeded.

So did I fail to mention the other purpose of this Lagoon trip? Silly me. I was so focused on fixing Fritz’s quirks, I forgot to mention that I have not ridden a roller coaster or anything scarier than the Cars ride for probably 20 years. I had lots of solid reasons: it would be a frivolous drain on our tight budget as grad students and young parents, someone had to watch the kids, my vertigo made it unbearable, and I have a strong aversion to crowds, especially of the carnival (Trump rally) variety.

Isn’t it the mom’s job to stay with the cooler and stroller with a book while Dad has fun with the older kids? Someone has to do it, so why not the Humdrum Stick-in-the-mud? I’m good at being the spectatorat holding the drinks, taking the pictures, and since I hate riding the rides anyway, I might as well fill that role. For two decades, that’s what I’ve chosen to do.

Determined to get off the bench and conquer my own fears at last, this time I asked my older boys to choose the three scariest rides to take me on. We started with a classic: the Colossus Fire Dragon. As soon as we stepped on to the metal walkway, I immediately had flashbacks from my teenage years, and as we started up the track, I felt like I was calling on long-latent muscle memory with each twist and turn. I had no vertigo, no motion sickness, and I realized I have probably ridden that coaster 30+ times in my life. I liked it, and I realized that I have always liked it.

Pumped with adrenaline, we went straight to Wicked. If I had I actually bothered to research Wicked in any way, I probably would have refused to ride it. Straight up and straight down? Roller coasters did not do this back in my day. And the twisty-turny stuff? Not cool. But I did it, and I mostly kept my eyes open the whole time. The girls sitting next to me had a good laugh at my reactions, though, so I was glad I brought someone joy.

It was much easier to go on Wicked, knowing and expecting nothing, than it was to go on Cannibal. As we stood in line, a recorded message would say, “Welcome to Cannibal…” My husband thought it sounded like the man was saying, “Welcome to Canada…” To me, it sounded like he was saying, “Welcome to Hell…”, and judging from the people in line, that wasn’t much of a stretch. There was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, children begging parents to leave, husbands dragging wives up the steps. It was not reassuring, and soon it was my turn. This picture was taken by my husband without my knowledge. It was not staged. Those are actual white knuckles and that is my actual “let’s get this over with” face.

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I did not know until afterwards that the vertical drop isn’t even vertical – it’s worse than vertical, but I did it!

Fritz didn’t join us on any of the really scary stuff, but bit by bit, he worked his way up to more challenging rides. It helped that he’s super tall and wasn’t allowed on any of the beensie kid rides. He was forced out of his comfort zone. We did some hand holding, some pep talks, some occasional bribes, and by the end of the night, he insisted on tackling some of the rides on his own.

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As I watched him, I realized how silly it was that I had gone from fearless to boring and that I had somehow convinced myself I had always been that way. I also realized that I really only have ten years or so to enjoy my rekindled love of roller coasters before I become a grandma (yikes!). Everyone knows that Grandma is always the one stuck with the cooler and stroller. Then again, maybe I’ve found a replacement benchwarmer…

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