I used to be fun. I used to go out dancing with my friends, and I’d get home late. I ate ice cream for dinner. I cracked jokes that didn’t open with, “Knock, knock!” And the summer I was 22, I scored the ultimate fun job: counselor at a travel camp for teenagers. I was one of four counselors and had a group of 40-something campers, aged 12-13.
We went fishing and to the beach and saw movies. But mostly, we went to theme parks. We hit Great Adventure, Hershey Park, and Busch Gardens, and these were highlights for me. I enjoyed everything about the rides, especially roller coasters: the speed, the lack of control, the unexpected drops, and sudden turns. I’ve never liked sudden changes in real life, but on a roller coaster, I learned to love them. And I taught my campers to love them, too.
By the second week, the kids called me Roller Coaster Girl. Scared campers would find me, on a bus or in line, and whisper a request to sit by my side. I’d talk to them through the long wait times, when I knew they’d be tempted to bail. I pointed out the laughter coming from those who had finished the ride. I’d talk them through the interminable climb before the sudden drop. And I’d cheer for the kids who braved the ride with me, just as loudly as their friends.
But Roller Coaster Girl would soon fade away. I met my would-be husband that summer. That fall, I would start my final term of graduate school, and afterward, I’d interview for my first job. Adulthood had arrived. I was still fun, but my definition of fun had to be altered.
Twelve years have passed since then. I still love theme parks, though the ones I choose now are a bit more appropriate for my young daughters. Each summer, my husband and I made our annual visit to Sesame Place.
Our youngest daughter, now 2.5, was better able to appreciate the trip and looked forward to seeing characters from her favorite TV show. But she still naps, and my husband and I didn’t think it would be worthwhile to skip it. We decided that mid-day, he’d take the baby to the hotel to rest while I stayed with our 4-year-old.
My older daughter eyed me skeptically. “You are going to take me on the rides?” she asked, surprised. I know she saw Mama, the tushie-wiping, routine-enforcing, organic vegetable-growing parent, as many things, but “fun” isn’t always one of them. I understood her disbelief, though it stung. I tried to appear unfazed as I nodded. “We can go on whatever you’d like.”
“Well…I want to go on the roller coaster!!” She looked at me, daring me to tell her no.
I grinned at her and took her hand. “Let’s go!”
Waiting on line with my child was different than waiting with campers. I worried more. Were the rides maintained well? Would someone double-check her harness? I ran a hand over her soft hair and hoped she wouldn’t someday blog about the time her mother scarred her for life by taking her on a theme park ride.
The line was mercifully short. We were quickly seated in a little car, and the coaster started to climb. My daughter turned to me, her brown eyes enormous with worry. “I’m scared,” she whispered.
I took her hand. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see. And Mama is here, so you’ll be fine,” I promised. And then we stared to fall. The coaster dipped and looped sideways. I looked over at my daughter’s face, holding my breath.
She was smiling. She looked over at me and laughed. She loved it.
The ride ended, and my daughter’s cheeks were flushed. “That was FUN, Mama! What can we go on next?”
We hopped into teacups, spinning ours madly. It made us so dizzy that we stumbled out like drunks in a bar. We went on something else that zoomed fast and high, and my daughter cheered happily. There was a tube slide and a gigantic net that children could climb. She rode a purple horse on the carousel. We flew side by side on the swings.
When my daughter asked for popcorn, it didn’t occur to me to say no. Together we sat on a bench, sweating in the July heat, and licked salt and fake butter from our fingers.
“Thank you for going on all the rides with me,” I told my daughter.
She grinned. “This was the best, Mama! Can we do this every day?”
I shook my head. “This is just a vacation. We have to go home soon.”
I know that tomorrow, I go back to being Mama. My children will be hungry, and I’ll prepare an actual meal. Tomorrow I’ll vacuum and do all the laundry. Tomorrow, despite their protests, I will give my daughters a bath after dinner, and then, I will put them to bed. But today, it was nice to be Roller Coaster Girl again.