I have been terrified of roller coasters for most of my life. It all started when I was 5 years old. My parents took my older sister and me to our very first amusement park. We were thrilled! Every single ride was geared toward the under-10 crowd. There was nothing to be afraid of. That is, until I went on the tiny penguin roller coaster.
It went up, it went down and it tilted ever-so-slightly to the side over a small pond. Sounds simple enough, but it ignited a fear in me that I had never felt before. That pond water looks gross. What if we go hurtling off the track? Who is in control here? We’re going too fast! I knew I was safe, but my brain just could not accept that logic. This fear stayed with me over the years, even triggering panic attacks on occasion. If I wasn’t in the driver’s seat, I didn’t want to do it.
And then I had kids.
Unlike me, my oldest son has been fascinated by roller coasters and other amusement park rides since he was little. By age 3, he was begging to go on a three-story-high slide. But I wanted no part of this experience. As a mom, I was in a bind: I didn’t want to pass on my own fears to my son. I wanted him to bravely explore the world like everything was new, which for him it actually was.
So there I was, at the amusement park with my family. The mere thought of that slide was telling my legs to run in the opposite direction. It felt like my stomach might have already left. Three stories up — and no brakes to reach for — meant we would pick up a scary amount of speed, but I wouldn’t let this conquer me. And so I climbed up the steps to the top of the slide. My son looked down at the bottom with joyful anticipation. I was still wondering what I was doing up there.
We zoomed down. My heart dropped, but as my son’s giggles turned into bursts of laughter I found myself beginning to relax. He was having so much fun. This was something new and exciting that he was getting to experience with his mom. My own fear started to drift away — because, I realized later, I found joy in that moment.
We climbed back to the top for a second ride. This time as we slid down I laughed along with him, happy that my stomach was calm and willing to go along for the ride.
I haven’t shaken my fear of roller coasters and other uncontrolled speeds, but I’ve learned to be brave when my son wants to try something new. I’ve learned to push past my fears so he can explore without hesitation. Fear has a time and place, but it shouldn’t take away our ability to have fun with our children or stop seeing the world as the magical place it is.
Amusement parks can be about about more than just the rides. Start planning your trip now!