Water parks aren’t my thing. Jiggling expanses of flesh, melding bodily fluids, the ever-present wafting odors of aerosol sunscreen and chlorine……I’d rather a root canal, any day. Still, every summer I make the trek to our local concrete watering hole because the kids love it, which makes them very low-maintenance for at least a couple of hours. I usually find a spot in the shade and gape at the assortment of bad ink. How do you decide whether your tattoo of Jesus’ head should include thorns? Should the thigh-sized lion’s head be looking at the crotch, or away from it? Implications, either way.
So yesterday, I packed up the Diva, the Pterodactyl, and Hot Firefighter Husband, and we trudged 15 minutes north to the land of kitschy beach shit so the kids could scream their way down frightening water slides. The baby Tyrant, now 9 years old, flew on a plane ALL BY HERSELF to visit my sister in Denver, where she has gone whitewater rafting, hot-tubbing, shopping, and seemingly to nirvana. She returns to reality tomorrow.
Enjoying the water park has been a gradual process for the boy. He loves the water and the more reasonable slides, the ones without the potential to, you know, kill you. Every year, he has expanded the number of slides he’ll ride, prompted mostly by the fact that otherwise, his sisters enjoy those rides without him. The one attraction he had never dreamed of attempting was the Hydro Halfpipe, a 35-foot replica of a skateboarder’s dream. Going on this ride entails sliding down a vertical drop in an inner tube, mostly at the speed of light, and soaring up the other side, again and again until you slow down or die. The lifeguard told me no one has ever flipped over on the halfpipe, but who knows because he was like 12.
Upon arrival, I settled into my lounge chair, read the New York Times until my phone died, and doled out frequent cash to the children. And I stared at that halfpipe. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if I could convince the Pterodactyl to go on the halfpipe? I don’t know why I thought it would be cool. I guess I envisioned how proud he’d feel after facing such a mental challenge.
“Um, no way, Mom,” he said, when I mentioned it. Then, because I had momentarily misplaced my mind, I suggested we approach the ride together, and I would go first. The whole family was speechless for a nanosecond, because here’s a secret – although in some ways I am very brave, I’m not brave at all when it comes to thrill-seeking maneuvers designed to make you think your time on earth has ended. I’ll never jump out of an airplane. I’m done with skyscraper roller coasters. I might get a motorcycle, but I’ll never go more than 30 miles per hour.
My halfpipe offer lingered in the air for about five minutes before he took me up on it. I regretted it immediately, and thanked Neptune I had two flights of stairs to climb so I could muster up some courage.
My son started reneging before we even reached the top, but he kept walking. When we reached the lifeguard monitoring the halfpipe, I peppered him with questions. Has anyone ever flipped over? What’s the best approach? What if I flip over? What should I hold onto? Will I fall? If I flip over, will it hurt? I’m surprised he didn’t call in a psych team to escort me out of the park.
“I can’t do it, Mom,” said the Pterodactyl. It’s okay, I told him. You don’t have to! It’s great if you do, and it’s great if you don’t. (I chose my language carefully: had I said It’s great if you do, and it’s okay if you don’t, his Anxious Attachment Disorder brain would have heard If I don’t do it, I’m not as good, and she won’t love me as much.)
We continued standing there on the precipice of death, and people were staring. “Do you want me to do it? Or do you want us both to go back down?” I asked hopefully. He wanted me to do it. I was torn between not doing it to show him how not doing it is okay, and doing it to show him I wouldn’t die, although I was not sure at all sure I wouldn’t die.
I took a deep breath, sat my ass in the inner tube, told the lifeguard not to let go until I was ready, closed my eyes, and said I was ready. And I fell. And fell. Straight down. Like, off a cliff. My heart might have stopped. I felt my neck snap. Down, down, to the bottom, and then I flew up. Like a rocket. Straight up, and up, slight pause, then down, down, off another cliff. I would soon expire of fright, I was sure of it. The scary part lasted maybe 15 seconds, or 15 hours. When it was over, I had whiplash and high blood pressure.
Husband had videotaped the escapade. You can watch it here. The placid calm you see on my face at the end is actually shock. I walked away from the halfpipe, and without a word, took Husband’s phone and walked back to my lounge chair. I watched myself three times, then tried unsuccessfully to post the video to Facebook, which is what I was doing when my soaking wet son flopped on top of me and lay there, trembling. “He did it!” said Husband. “He did the halfpipe!”
I wrapped my arms around my boy. “WHAT? WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”
“I tried,” said Husband. “I yelled and yelled. You were too busy on your phone.” MomFail #875.
The Pterodactyl’s body shook from head to toe. “You did it?” I whispered in his ear. “That was so brave! I can’t believe it! Were you scared?”
“I can’t do it again, Mom,” he said, his voice breaking.
“I know, I know,” I told him. “It’s so scary, right? But you did it! You did it!” He smiled weakly, still shaking, and we stayed there for a long few minutes, me holding him as he gathered himself. I watched the sea of humanity roll by, and rubbed the back of the bravest among them, the small, trembling one with COURAGE indelibly inked on his heart.