When I was growing up, there was a little cluster of amusement rides off of Hempstead Turnpike called Jolly Rogers. The amusements were covered in a thin layer of car exhaust, the ferris wheel had rusty cages that were totally enclosed and the rides were jammed in so close together, it was like the inside of a storage unit. This small amusement park was to Six Flags what a petting zoo is to a working farm. But I loved Jolly Rogers, and the stomach-dropping thrill of going round and round and up and down on its rides. Spinning around in the tea cups made me laugh in a way I don't laugh anymore. And the way the Tilt-o-Whirl whipped you around like a lasso was both frightening and titillating. For years, every time we'd pass Jolly Rogers in our car, my heart would beat a little faster.
I'd forgotten about that childhood excitement until last night, when we took our 2-year-old son, Eddie, to a carnival. Upon seeing the rides, if my son were slightly more verbal, he would have said, Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I want to go on the ferriswheelrollercoastercarouseltilt-o-whirlteacupsswingsdinosaurride! But instead, he would just point his chubby little index finger like a ray gun and say, "That one!" and my husband and I would put him on that ride.
We started off slowly, putting him on a children's ride that had an apple centerpiece and was surrounded by cars shaped like lady bugs. The man operating the ride wore a safari hat and would tell the children as they got on, "The secret word is 'applesauce.'" Once the ride began moving, he'd say, "What's the secret word?" and they'd shout "Applesauce!" as their cars chugged by.
Next stop was the carousel. Eddie wanted to ride one of the horses that went up and down -- a black one, to be specific -- so I got on the ride with him. I stood next to his horse and grasped tightly to a bar behind him as the circular motion of rides now gives me vertigo.
I then took him on the Ferris wheel. Every time our car would ascend high into the air and then over the top of the wheel, I would say, "Weeeeeee!" and then "Look how beautiful!" and point to the rides below. I was trying to assuage his fear, though he didn't seem to have any. It's me who now gets light-headed and queasy when I look down from a great height.
As our car rocked back and forth at the top of the wheel, I looked down at a ride called "The Screamer," which resembled the hammer-like machine that pumps oil out of a well, only it rotated 360, and I thought there must be a lot of vomit in that car. I also thought if Eddie wants to ride that one, he's on his own. I can no longer stomach rides that put me upside down.
As we headed for the food tent, Eddie spotted a small roller coaster shaped like a train and out went his chubby little index finger like a pointer. "That one!" he said.
As we got closer, what looked like an innocuous child's train seemed to whip saw the children up and down and then around.
"It looks like they're going to get whiplash," said a woman standing on line in front of us.
I hoped Eddie wasn't going to be tall enough for the ride, but when I stood him in front of the measuring stick, he just made it.
The seats weren't large enough for adults, so he was going to be riding this one alone. As we stood on line, I had him grab the bars of the railing next to us and kept saying "Hold tight. Show me. Hold tight," and as he grasped the rail, I kept trying to pull his hands off so he could show me how tight he could hold.
When the man operating the ride opened the entry gate, Eddie and all the other riders swarmed the cars. Eddie wound up in a seat alone. Two children were then turned away because the ride was full. So, I picked Eddie up and put him in the first car, next to an older girl who seemed capable of saving my child's life if he was about to fly out. I then saw her practicing lifting her hands in the air as she planned to do when the car flew down a hill. So much for my lessons in how to grasp a rail.
Soon, the ride started, and I watched my son get whipped around in the car, the weight of the older girl pressing him toward the outside of the car. He was holding on so tightly to the bar in the car, I'm sure his knuckles were white. But his face was beaming. As I watched him fly by, his shoulder-length hair flying back in the wind, I could feel his joy and almost remember a life without fear.
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