I can't believe I'm standing in this line! Did I really agree to do this for her? Whatever possessed me? I clench my knees and wait to get on the ride. I look down as the swings whiz over our heads.
Our preteen daughter, Mary, had been working awfully hard on school reports and getting music ready for contests. As a child much younger than her siblings being raised alone by parents not exactly young in years, her home life was not what you would call filled with adventure. When her school's spring break came, I wanted to do something for her to show her a good time.
Since there aren't too many things that we can do together - I don't ski or inline skate (though the latter seems within the range of possibility) - we opted for a trip to Aberdeen, S.D., to visit her older brother and his family. From there, we'd go to Minneapolis and the Mall of America. There was something in it for everybody: My husband and I would enjoy the visiting part, and Mary would enjoy the shopping.
The visit Mary tolerated, though, as she put it, we "didn't do anything." But as we neared Minneapolis, she grew visibly excited. She started talking animatedly about the rides at Camp Snoopy, the amusement park at the mall's center.
"Mom, you'll have to go on the Kite-Eating Tree. It's fun! Oh, and I want you to go on...." and she named several others.
Now I was in at least second grade before I worked up my courage to ride the merry-go-round. Going higher than the third rung on a ladder seemed to me death-defying. Intentionally getting on rides that take you higher than the treetops was as unthinkable as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
"I wouldn't go on that thing for a million dollars!" I've said when looking at the double Ferris wheel, or the swings that take off into space as centrifugal force spins them out and away from a gigantic central pillar.
But would the rides be fun for her if she didn't have someone to go with? Deep inside I knew the answer.
As one who had learned to get up and do what needed to be done - be it cleaning up after the cat or disposing of dead goldfish - I knew I had to get up and do this. The disgusting things I'd had to do seemed easy at this point.
"I'll go with you on two rides, but the roller coaster is out of the question!"
Her response was an instant, incredulous, "Really?"
I looked over at her. Her face lit up with a combination of delight and devilment. "You have to go on the Kite-Eating Tree," she informed me. I wasn't sure, but I sensed she might be asking me to go on something nearly as unimaginable as the Niagara barrel ride.
"The Kite-Eating Tree - that isn't the thing where the swings fly up into space...?"
I gulped and hesitated. Then "OK," I heard my words come out.
When we got to the mall, we walked directly toward Camp Snoopy, or rather she ran, and my husband and I walked. "Hurry, Mom!" she commanded.
There it was! I didn't know if it was threatening to kites, but it certainly was to me!
After deciding that it was best to ride before eating, and quickly, so as not to have to think about it too long, we got in line. Her dad would wait patiently below and watch.
"Look at it, Mom!" she urged, but I couldn't make myself turn to face that direction. As we inched closer, I kept reminding myself that one can do anything one has to do, if one's motive is right.
Our turn to mount the beast came soon enough. My leaden legs carried me toward the dangling seats. Once on, there was no turning back. Mary took the swing ahead, and grinned back at me, challenging me to break free of the anxiety and get into the spirit of things. I tried to smile, but I was too busy just sitting there.
It took off - Whuff! - around the perimeter. I'm still in the seat! Whiff! - over the heads of watchers! Still in the seat! Whoosh! - above the surrounding trees growing surrealistically indoors. They said they'd stop us if we raised a hand, but I'm in the seat - straining, but hanging on!
AS I screamed silent affirmations to myself, I dared to look down. With each succeeding revolution around the center, that landscape seemed increasingly dreamlike. I was able to turn from seeing myself as doing something - something strange and dangerous - to seeing myself as being something, something brave and powerful!
The thought lifted, energized me. I relaxed a bit, and tried leaning back in my seat. Yes, it felt OK. My grip loosened. Incredible to think of, but it was almost fun.
After only half an eternity, we returned to land. When my feet were firmly in position, I stood, took a deep breath. Triumph! My heart soared!
As our fellow earthborn space travelers moved away to make room for the next group of explorers, I moved with them - steps buoyant, motion effortless. My smile was no longer tentative.
Wow! I had done it! Done the unthinkable! I had done it, and she would understand.
"OK, now: Where's that second ride? Let's go!"