There I stood at the foot of the Ferris wheel trying to decide what to do. The idea of leaving Aaron alone, where I could see him but not reach him if he needed me, frightened me more than was probably healthy. The simple idea of getting on the Ferris wheel brought back the childhood panic of being stuck at the top with my sister wildly rocking the seat and pretending to fall out. Ending this outing with Nic crumbling into a ball of anxiety and overload was too much to bear. I needed to make a decision, now. Face my fears or deal with the consequences.
Usually, I avoid anything that creates even the remote possibility that I will be on an amusement ride. The boys had been so excited about going to the festival and riding the rides. It had been months since Nic had a big meltdown. I didn't want to disappoint the boys; I wanted Nic to have the chance to enjoy some summer fun. Since we were meeting friends, I figured I could avoid the rides and the friends would distract Nic from his worries. That plan was working beautifully until my boys needed a snack and we got separated from our friends.
After searching a few of the rides and the bathroom lines, it was clear we were not going to find them. "Sorry, guys, I don't see them anywhere. They probably needed to go. You both look hot and tired. We should head out, too."
"I don't WANT to go!" Nic's voice was low but forceful. "I want to go on more rides."
"Not me," Aaron said. "It is wicked hot out here. I need some air-conditioning and TV."
Nic's body was rigid. He was teetering on edge of a full-scale meltdown.
"Oh, here we go again!" exclaimed Aaron. "Another fun thing ruined!"
"Nothing is ruined," I said. Nothing was ruined, yet, and I wanted to keep it that way. Too many times, our last memory of an event was the tantrum Nic had when it all had grown too much for him. It had been a few months since that had happened. We had started to try more outings. Aaron was not objecting to doing things with his brother. I did not want it to end now, we still had so much summer to get through.
"How about this," I said trying to let my voice sound light, "Nic, you can go on one last ride. Aaron, I'll get you the cotton candy you wanted. Then, we will go home."
Nic's body relaxed. Aaron rolled his eyes.
Nic chose the Ferris wheel. On the way over, I bought Aaron some cotton candy. All was right with the world once again.
Then, we saw the sign: No Single Riders. Nic would have to ride with a stranger. Nic wouldn't ride with another kid, at least not a stranger. I didn't want to let him ride with an adult I didn't know.
Nic released a slow growl. "I have to go on the Ferris wheel!"
Aaron rolled his eyes.
"How about another ride?" I suggested.
"You said I could pick one last ride! I pick the Ferris wheel!"
I looked at Aaron. "I'm not getting on that thing!" he said before I could even ask the question.
"Nic, I'm sorry. I can't leave Aaron down here all by himself." And, I am scared to death of getting on that thing anyway, I said only to myself.
"Mom, I'll be fine," offered Aaron. "I'll stand right here and eat my cotton candy. No one is going to take me."
Nic's ears were turning red, a sign that he would not hold it together much longer. I looked at each of the boys. I looked around at all the other kids running by without any sign of watchful parents. Aaron tugged on my sleeve and whispered, "It's okay, Mom."
With my legs feeling wobbly and my heart-racing, I took a seat on the Ferris wheel. As the ride began to move, I felt my stomach drop. Beside me, Nic's smile grew wide. He closed his eyes, tipped his head back and let the wind sail through his hair. Below, Aaron munched on his cotton candy and waved up at us. I wanted to wave back but my hand was frozen to the bar meant to keep us in the seats.
As the first pass around completed, I thought " Okay, I can do this." We started to go up again and stopped. Right at the top. I felt as though my heart had stopped. I imagined myself slipping under the safety bar. Nic's grabbing my hand brought me back to realty where I was relieved to see I was still seated on the ride.
The look on Nic's face had changed from joy to fear. "Is the ride broken? How long do we have to stay up here?" he asked, a small tremble in his voice.
"Hey, buddy! We are fine. They are just letting other people on the ride."
"Look!" I said, trying to distract him. "There's the library. Oh, and that's where we got ice cream!" Then with all the courage I could muster, I looked down and pointed. "There's Aaron! Let's wave. Do you think he can hear us from here?"
Nic smiled down at his brother. "Hey, Aaron, up here!" We all waved furiously to each other.
Through the rest of the ride, I pointed things out to Nic. I asked him what his favorite rides were. His smile was back. He was having fun. Aaron was safe and proud of being able to stay by himself.
It was my favorite day that summer. It was the day that my boys made me face my fears. The day that I learned to trust them, myself and the universe just a little bit more. Now, whenever I hesitate to do something, I think of the Ferris wheel and ride anyway.