Josh and I love amusement parks. There’s always so much to see and do. The sights, the sounds, even the smells at an amusement park are exciting to me. It’s new and it’s different and we’re there together and having a blast – it just doesn’t get much better than that.
I love the scary rides. The faster and crazier it is, the better. I want my stomach moving from its normal location to my toes to my head and back at a very rapid rate. And when the ride is over, if there’s any way to get back on and do it again, I’m there. It’s in my blood. An abnormal DNA sequence or something.
Josh, on the other hand, seemingly did not inherit this thrill-seeking gene. If it’s a ride where he gets to shoot at aliens or see superheros, or something where he gets to climb all over the place or get wet, he’s there. But anything that moves too fast or leaves the ground in any way, shape or form or might in some unknown manner turn too scary, you can’t drag him there without a good fight. No amount of reasoning, no skilled persuasion will get him there. He very clearly understands the line between real and pretend, he knows it’s very safe and that if there was even a question about safety I’d never let him near it. We’ve even watched programs on tv that show the amount of painstaking detail goes into making sure the rides are safe and clean and that everyone has a good time.
But he will not be moved.
This leaves me with a dilemma. I don’t want him to grow up being afraid to try new things. But I also want him to have a great time and leave feeling excited and wanting more. And so we talk. We talk about how safe it is. We talk about the tv show we watched together that explained the safety precautions. We talk about how I would never ask him to do something that was too much for him to handle, or wasn’t safe. How there’s a difference between being scared and being afraid. And he understands all of this.
But he still doesn’t want to go.
So I make a rule. I tell him that sometime before the day is over, he has to ride at least one ride that might be a little bit scary. He can pick the ride, and I won’t let him pick anything that would be too scary or shake us up too much. Aside from that, the day is his and we’ll ride and see anything he wants. But he has to do it. If he doesn’t pick one before the end of the day, then I’ll pick one for him. And he understands. And he promises he’ll do it.
You need to understand that a promise is a big deal in our house. I have never made a promise to Josh that I could not keep. We are very careful about making promises, because no matter what happens, if you make a promise you have to keep it. We talk about this a lot, and he totally gets it. I never make a promise I can’t keep, nor does he. And I don’t ask him to, and I won’t let him make a promise I know he can’t handle. Making a promise, to us, is a big, huge deal.
So we go through the park. We shoot aliens on the Men in Black ride. We just happen to see Spiderman in one of the gift shops and Josh gets his picture taken with him. We ride Spidey’s ride. We go on Popeye’s boat and shoot Curious George’s water cannons and we eat expensive amusement park food and buy souvenirs. We do all of these things and more, most of them at least twice. And we have a blast. Every now and then I remind him that he needs to pick a ride, and he tells me he knows and then puts it off.
As the day grows older, I remind him more often, until I finally have to tell him he needs to pick a ride or I’ll pick one for him. I can tell he’s wrestling with this, but he knows he made a promise and has to keep it. The tension is building…
Now, for those of you who are thinking that it’s cruel of me to make my kid go on a scary ride, you need to know something. He’s been on scary rides before. And he loved them. At this same park he rode his first roller coaster, and when it was over we rode it again – at his request. He’s a terrific, smart, outgoing, energetic kid who loves to have fun and knows from experience that I will never lead him into danger and will always be there for him no matter what and even if he can’t see me I’m watching out for him and if anyone or anything ever tried to hurt him they’d have to go through me because I’m his dad and I love him so much (inhale, deep breath) – but sometimes he decides in his head that he doesn’t like something and then stands very, very firm. I have no idea how he got to be so stubborn. Ahem.
And so finally it’s almost time to leave and I give him one more chance to choose a ride and he doesn’t and so I do it for him. We have just walked past the Jurassic Park ride – perfect! That one won’t be too bad. After all, it’s a boat ride. Although I’ve not been on it, I’m positive it can’t be too scary. I mean seriously – a boat ride. We’ve seen the movie. He loves dinosaurs. And better yet, the tv program even showed how the dinosaurs are made and how they fix them. They’re big robots, and wouldn’t you know it, he loves robots, too!
So we get in line. And he’s okay. A bit nervous, but okay. We talk about dinosaurs and robots and about what I think we’re going to see and everything is great. We watch other people getting off the ride and note the fact that they are all alive and breathing and believe it or not, most of them are even laughing! And finally, our turn comes. The boat has four or five rows that each seat four people. It’s on a track, which is odd, but I don’t think much of it. We get in the last row – an older couple, then Josh, then me. And the ride begins.
It starts out really peaceful. It’s a quiet river, and we can see signs of a camp of some sort. Then we see peaceful, plant-eating dinosaurs calmly watching us float by. Josh is watching with interest. It’s all going well, I think.
Then his hand squeezes my arm. “What’s that?!” he yells. There is evidence of trouble in the camp. Broken signs. A jeep turned over. I remind him that it’s pretend, that I’m right by his side, that it’s all part of the story, like we’re in a tv show. And then the Raptors come, we go into the dark tunnel, and he loses it.
He’s got a grip on my arm like a vise. The raptors are running around, coming near us, screaming of course, and there are signs of carnage everywhere. The boat has sped up quite a bit. I have my arm around him, and his eyes are huge. I can tell that somewhere in there he knows it’s all fake, that we’re not really in danger, and that it will all be over soon. He’s getting used to it. He’s starting to relax and maybe even enjoy it. And then the final surprise.
A huge T-rex comes straight at us, mouth open, giant teeth almost glowing and dripping. The boat speeds up as it goes down a roller-coaster like hill (so that’s why it’s on a track, I am thinking). It looks like we’re going right into T-rex’s giant, tooth-filled mouth. Its scream fills the air, slightly dampened by the much louder, more realistic scream of the boy at my side who is trying desperately to escape through the bottom of the boat.
In a matter of seconds it’s all over. We’re alive, we get out of the boat, and while Josh is quickly settling down I can tell his heart and his thoughts are still racing. This is one of those rides where they take your picture at the scariest part – in this case, as you’re going into T-rex’s mouth, and as you exit the ride you can see yourself on the screens and buy the picture if you want it. We stop and look for our boat, and there it is. Four rows of people, hands in the air, laughing, screaming. The older couple doing the same. Then an empty spot, and then me leaning over to pull one terrified boy off the floor. Now that it’s over, we can both look at it and laugh.
As we walk away I tell him he did a great job and ask him what he thought. He tells me the picture was kind of funny, and that he knew it was all pretend and safe, but…
He stops and looks at me with a very serious look on his face. He’s still trembling, and trying now to work up his best angry voice. This is meant to show me that he means business.
“I’ll never let you forget that you made me go on that ride!”
I think to myself – it was scary. You didn’t necessarily want to do it. But you kept your promise. And I was there with you the whole time. I wouldn’t have let you go if it was too much for you to handle. We did it together, and at the end we could both look back and laugh.
I kneel down so we’re eye to eye, and I give him a giant hug. Then I look at him and say “You know what? I’m never going to let you forget that I made you go on that ride, either!” And then we hold hands, walk on and finish out a great, great day.