"We're going, going, going to Canada's Wonderland. We're going, going, going to Canada's Wonderland." The deafeningly, catchy song from my youth was screamed by my excited children in the back seat (I wondered after the first half hour why I taught it to them). Each time they would see a sign for Wonderland, each time they thought about Wonderland. I thought that they may pass out with excitement as we drove through the actual gates.
In the car before we parked I read them the riot act. "No one is to ask for anything, this day is your treat. No one is to whine about the ride that they want to go on, because everyone will get to pick two rides that they really want to ride, and I promise that we will ride them. We are not buying food in the park, so don't ask. Do you understand?" I took a deep breath, hoping that the excitement would not create demon spawns. "We understand Mom." Came the chorus from the back. It was said not as though they understood, but that they knew they would not leave the car until they paid me lip service and pretended to understand.
I was unsure what the day held for us. I was almost certain that I would loose it on at least one of my children, and or have one of them reduced to tears of temper and over excitement. Happily none of those things came to fruition. We had an amazing day, not just an amazing day, but a day of amazing self discoveries... hold on you say, has she lost it? Let me explain.
My children are by nature frightened children. They come by this naturally, it seems to be a genetic trait. I myself lived a life afraid to try things, afraid to fail, afraid to stand out, well, just afraid. As a young child I would try to make myself invisible, hoping that if no one saw me, no one would draw attention to me. If you were to ask any of my former teachers what I was like as a student, I am certain that none of them would even remember having me in their class. As a teen I disguised my fear with a big mouth and plenty of bravado. Maybe if I looked like I wasn't scared, people would believe me. In both scenarios I was afraid to try, afraid to fail.
It broke my heart to see my children had inherited my irrational fears. Most of the time they don't even have a concrete fear, it's just a general nervousness of the unknown. When they felt fear I would cuddle and protect them from their fears, hoping that my strength would transfer over to them. I thought that if I gave them my strength, then they would be able to conquer their fears. What I was actually doing was reinforcing to them that all of their fears were founded in fact, otherwise, why would they need protecting? When I realized this I felt like a failure as a mother. In my desire to make them feel safe, I made their fears worse. It was this realization which began the best thing I ever did for any of us. I began to encourage them, and Christopher and I to push our comfort levels, to do things that frightened us. I am not talking about jumping out of an airplane, but rather little things. I have found that when you conquer a small fear, it feels amazing, it is empowering. Since we began to encourage the kids (and ourselves) to face small fears, they walk taller, feel stronger.
This brings me back to "When is a roller coaster, not 'just' a roller coaster?" The kids wanted to try the roller coaster, but were a little trepidatious. I personally am not a fan of heights (that's actually putting it quite mildly). I am not really a fan of roller coasters, they scare me. We began with Timber Wolf Falls. It is a mini roller coaster that involves water. For some reason, although I dislike roller coasters, I love Timber Wolf Falls, go figure. So Christopher and I split up and each took some kids on the ride. Elly was too small to ride, so we each took a turn hanging back with her, or taking her to a ride that she could ride on. The kids were all nervous, but wanted to try this adventure. Rowan looked like he was going to throw up as he sat in the seat. He got off jumping up and down screaming "That was AWESOME!!!!!" He was on a high. I suspect his high was part endorphins from the ride and part endorphins because he just got a little braver.
The kids all went on a few roller coasters. We did The Ghoster Coaster (my type of roller coaster) several times, each time, loving it even more. We conquered our fear of the unknown. The kids all walked around of the park a little taller, looking a little stronger. They had fought anxiety and won! They were so proud of themselves. They had done something that scared them a little, and realized that sometimes fear can be fun. I could not be more proud of those kids.
Sometimes a roller coaster is not just a roller coaster. Sometimes a roller coaster is a metaphor for life. You can lead the safe life, riding the merry-go-round, it's fun and it's safe. There is no anxiety involved in the merry-go-round. You know what to expect, wooden horses going around in circles. A roller coaster is stepping outside of your boundaries. It's still safe, because you are strapped in, no harm will come to you, most especially in a place like Canada's Wonderland, where roller coasters are their bread and butter. You are safely facing the unknown, facing your fears, making yourself stronger. A roller coaster is exhilarating, and still safe. For us the roller coaster pushed our boundaries and let us know that we could be brave. If you can face a small safe fear, then other things are easy. Sometimes a roller coaster is an opportunity to grow, and make yourself stronger.