Last month my daughter turned 5 and to celebrate we took her to Disney World. Pretty much a dream come true for her, but not for me. I was excited, but also secretly terrified.
“Mommy, now that I’m 5, I’m big enough to ride roller coasters,” she’d announced. I almost had a heart attack. My baby? On a rickety metal train? Careening down a 50-foot fiberglass mountain? No way. I broke out into a cold sweat just imagining it.
But that’s how she wanted to mark her special day, and to her, riding her first roller coaster would be a big milestone. The problem was, it would be my first roller coaster too, and I’m 41. I’ve had a lifelong phobia of scary rides. Give me a slow boat in shallow water and some singing dolls and I was more than satisfied. Thrill rides were not for me.
“How is this even possible?” people asked. “Roller coasters are the best! Going fast is fun! Lighten up! Live a little.”
I’ve always been a little anxious and high-strung. I’m wound tight, as they say, so I’ve always sought out leisure activities that were slow, quiet, and calming. I like canoe rides on mirror-still lakes, touring botanical gardens, long dinners with good conversation, and I am always, I repeat, always up for a spa day, so I could never see the appeal of purposely scaring the crap out of myself. Driving around my city during rush hour gets my adrenaline going enough as it is. Why would I want to barrel down a mountain on a runaway train, or zoom through space in a bobsled (in the freaking dark no less)?
This logic led me to become a die-hard amusement park wuss.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved visiting the parks. I go for the parades, the shopping, the decorations, the characters, and of course the chocolate-covered bananas. I’ve always been the one in the group who would gladly take the toddlers on the mermaid ride 25 times in a row while everyone else braved the high-speed loops of California Screamin’.
Except I gave birth to a daughter who is best described as fearless.
Over and over again, since she was born, this amazing kid has taught me that our children aren’t carbon copies of ourselves. Case in point, she actually told me when she was only 4 that if I took her on another garden tour, she was going to throw herself headfirst into a lily pond. She wants to have adventures, and I want her to experience life on her own terms as much as possible.
More important, I don’t want to teach my daughter to react to stress and discomfort by having anxious meltdowns. I’ve been trying to unlearn this myself for several decades now. Who knew a preschooler would deliver one of my most valuable lessons about letting go and having pure, unbridled fun?
The park was absolutely magnificent when we arrived. Everything was decked out for fall, and the weather was perfect, not a hint of Orlando’s usual heat and humidity. Naturally, the first thing we headed for was a roller coaster — Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to be exact — because this was why we’d come, after all. My little girl was ecstatic that she easily met the height requirement for the train.
I had to do this for my daughter. So, in a literal cold sweat with knocking knees, I got in the coaster and lowered the safety bar, convinced I was soon hurtling to my death. I put on the bravest face that I possibly could, but my mouth was dry, my palms were slick, and I was so scared that I could have thrown up. Somehow, though I held it together, and by the first drop I felt my mouth widen into a huge smile. We screamed, we shouted, we raised our hands above our heads. This was awesome! I enjoyed every single second.
Well, it turns out that I love roller coasters after all, and I just needed a feisty 5-year-old to show me how to have a good time. As soon as the train rumbled back into the station, we both wanted to go on again and again. My family and I spent the entire weekend enjoying every thrill ride that my daughter was big enough to go on and by the time we finally made it to Small World (so we could chill out a little after so much excitement) I found myself thinking, “Man, this thing could really use a nice 30-foot drop.”
“See, Mommy! This was fun, right?” my daughter asked as we stepped off Splash Mountain.
I couldn’t disagree. I’d had one of the best weekends of my entire life. I discovered a new way to have a good time, and I realized how irrational my fear had been. Fast rides with sharp turns and steep hills are obviously completely safe, but more than that, they actually relieve more anxiety than they produce. I found the roller coasters to be cathartic, and as my child would tell you, “Screaming is cool.” It really did help me release a lot of stress.
Our kids constantly teach us, and constantly force us to face our worst fears and better ourselves, not just for them, but for our own good too. When I finally overcame my thrill ride phobia so that my daughter could celebrate her dream birthday, a whole new world of fun and excitement opened up to me when I least expected it. Roller coasters and scary rides are going to become a tradition in our family, and I can’t wait for all the memories we’ll make. In fact, I’m already planning our next trip.More On