My Deepest Fear
Sunday morning, my daughter woke up crying. She had a class trip to Six Flags and was overwhelmed with homework. Frightened of her anxiety born of perfectionism, too much like mine, I galvanized her to go on the trip. “When you’re 50, you will wish you had spent more time having fun and less time on work.” A tearful mess, (her, not me) I deposited her at the school and went home and worried. My husband suggested that I surprise our son by taking him to Six Flags. That way, I could check on our daughter and please my son at the same time. (Conveniently, he had a business trip that day and could not join us on this “great adventure.”)
I don’t like amusement parks. I was terrified of the local Halloween Haunted House as a child. Dark with costumed figures jumping out and bowls of spaghetti guts and peeled grape eyeballs to feel, it was not a frisson of fun for me. While the other kids were laughing, I was quaking and looking for the exit. My fear was compounded with embarrassment at not fitting in with the other kids. What was the matter with me? When it came to rides, I could barely stand the Merry-Go-Round. The Ferris Wheel was too high. The Round-Up was too fast. I never went on those flying swings. And forget about roller coasters. As amusement parks became theme parks and got better at supplying a well-rounded overall experience instead of just rides (think Disney, Busch Gardens), I grudgingly accepted them and even have been known to have a good time, usually in the company of more adventurous and extraverted souls. The log flume ride was fun! But roller coasters – I hated them. The safety belt strapping you in so that you don’t die when you go upside down. The adrenalin as you crank up to the first swoop. The force of the swoop on your neck. The wondering when the ride is going to be over. The nausea. The screaming. And the newer ones in the dark? I hate them. I hate amusement parks.
I looked at my husband like he was crazy. “But what about the laundry?” I exclaimed, grasping at a responsible-sounding excuse. I wanted to go to yoga. I wanted to plant spring flowers. Maybe go for a bike ride. And, of course, I had the weekly laundry to do. I did not want to go to Six Flags. But I was worried about my daughter. And I did want to make my son happy. Rarely spontaneous, I am quite sure that when I am 90, I will wish I had spent more time having fun and less time on laundry. I woke my son and told him we were going to Six Flags. The surprise, the disbelief, the thrill on his face gave me joy. Off we went.
When we arrived, I remembered why I hate amusement parks. The long lines. The loud music. The rickety rides. The junk food. (I brought my own peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, of course. I cannot eat that food. Thank god the security guard didn’t make me throw it away when he inspected my purse. Speaking of purses, do not bring a purse to an amusement park. You cannot go upside down on a roller coaster with a purse.) Six Flags pretty much consists of roller coasters, ranging from scary to terrifying. It doesn’t help that I wonder about their maintenance and safety records and am skeptical of the nonchalant teens operating them. For better or worse, the first ride we hit was the most terrifying. (SUPERMAN: Ultimate Flight) I used my yoga: Breathe. Remember it doesn’t last long. I willed the adrenalin to subside. We swooped and screamed and I did not lose my purse. I acknowledged, firmly and with no embarrassment nor apology this time around: I hate roller coasters. I hate amusement parks. I wished that I could be a more enthusiastic and spontaneous and fun-loving mother for my son, but I couldn’t do it. We spent the day sauntering the park, looking for rides that were not too terrifying. He solicitously didn’t want to make me go on any rides that were too scary. We ran into my daughter once. She was having a good time with her friends and didn’t want to be stalked by her mother and little brother. We let her be. Exhausted, and about $200 in the hole, we drove home. My daughter returned on the bus to her mounds of homework. Life returned to its normal relentless pace of too much to do and too little time for joy and connection.
A 13-year-old boy killed himself this week. I don’t know him. It doesn’t matter. I am devastated. So sad for his mother. I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy who can’t imagine life without him. Even when, (especially when), we have days where I fall short of being the fun-loving mother I aspire to be and imagine he wants. Tragedies like this one remind me that every day is precious, even when they’re not perfect. Perhaps being the careful-loving mom that I am who acknowledges who she is and who she is not may be the best mom I can be to him.
Life is hard. We all suffer. Some more than others. At 50, I have more self-knowledge and self-acceptance than I had as a teen. I have become resilient, surviving the troughs because I have the experience of surviving previous troughs. Surviving because I have people I love and who love me. Surviving for those precious and imperfect moments of joy and connection. Surviving because I am grateful for all the good in my life. My deepest, most unfathomable fear is to lose a child. I pray that my children never experience so much pain that they feel there is no way out. I pray that my children speak their anger and ask for help. I pray that my children do less laundry and have more fun.