Day at the park: riding the roller coaster of a son's self-discovery

Several months before my son's eighth birthday, he became obsessed with roller coasters, amusement parks, and especially Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, a park 30 minutes from our home.

Theo studied Six Flag's roller coasters, collected its maps, drew his own maps, and talked of little else.

How could we not take him to the park on his birthday, which happened to fall on a beautiful Sunday in July?

"I can't decide," he lamented three weeks before his birthday. "Should I ride 'Batman' or the 'Villain' first?"

In honor of the day, my husband even plopped down 40 controversial extra dollars for fast-ride tickets that would allow us to cut to the fronts of the lines on several rides.

Once through the gates, we chased after Theo, who was running through the throng of people toward the "Villain," a large wooden coaster built in 2000.

My son and I darted to the front of the line. But just as we were about to climb into our seats, he suddenly froze.

"I can't do it," he gasped almost inaudibly.

"Sure you can," I reassured him. "You went on even bigger coasters last summer. If you just go on, you'll be fine."

Having just cut in front of everyone, I was manhandling my 54-pound son into the seat of a roller coaster.

I admit it didn't look

good. The people standing in line behind us were horrified. But they didn't know my son. This was the moment he had been anticipating for months. I knew that he simply needed a nudge.

But when his fear turned to panic, the ride operator apparently did not trust me and let my son off the ride before it began, with me in pursuit.

"They're so much bigger than I remember," he shrieked while running down the ramp.

In a rare instant I saw the world from his vantage point. His confusion over fantasy versus reality hit him - and finally, me - between the eyes.

These rides, like so many things, were a lot bigger in real life.

Once we all reminded ourselves that roller coasters were just a fraction of the amusements at the park, we relaxed and started eating. Several thousand calories later, my son, unprompted, whispered in my ear, "Mom, I think I'm ready."

My raised eyebrows asked if he were sure.

Reassured by the return of his poise and confidence, we took the plunge - and spent the rest of the day soaring.

By the end of the day, we had ridden 10 times on three different coasters, including the "Villain."

While tucking him in that night, I asked Theo what had been the best part of his birthday.

"Oh Mom, that's easy," he sleepily mumbled. "It was the roller coasters."

He loved what truly scared him. At the ripe old age of 8, my son had accomplished something that both exhilarated and terrified him.

When can I honestly say the same thing about myself?

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