Already feeling clammy in the humid August heat, I felt my body temperature rising even higher as I stood with the boys trying to decide what to do. Either way, it would be something that scared me. My time to make a decision was running out.
The boys and I were at a local festival where we had met Jenny and her kids. Usually, I avoid anything that creates even the remote possibility that I will be on an amusement ride. Since we were meeting Jenny and her kids, though, I thought I was in clear. Our kids could ride together. I would snap a few pictures and cross my fingers that the meltdowns that used to be a regular part of these outings wouldn’t happen today. That plan was working well until we all got separated.
We had been at festival for about an hour. With the heat, and all the fairs sounds and smells, my boys were needed break. Water and snack could not wait. Jenny’s kids had already had a snack and wanted to stay on the rides. Off the boys and I went in search of carnival treats and hydration. After several explanations of why eating anything fried or guzzling down an extra-large soda were not good choices while riding on things that spin you around, the boys finally agreed to bottled water and ice creams.
When we returned to where the rides were, we couldn’t find Jenny or her kids anywhere. I figured she had probably needed to make a quick exit. Standing with my own boys, I could totally understand if she had.
“Sorry, guys, I don’t see them anywhere. They probably needed to go. You both look hot and tired. We should head out, too.”
Aaron looked relieved. “It is wicked hot out here. This was fun but now I need some air-conditioning and TV.”
“I don’t WANT to go!” Nic’s voice was low but forceful. “I want to go on some more rides.”
“Not me,” Aaron said. “I’m done. I say we go home. NOW!”
Nic’s body was rigid, his face panicked. I had no doubt that he was as tired and hot as Aaron, but Nic’s plan for the day had clearly not been completed. He gritted his teeth, his hands curled into fists. He was teetering on edge of a full-scale meltdown.
“Oh, here we go again!” exclaimed Aaron. “Another fun thing ruined!”
“Nothing is ruined,” I said. Nothing was ruined, yet, and I wanted to keep it that way. Too many times, our last memory of an event was the tantrum Nic had when it all had grown too much for him. It had been a few months since that had happened. We had started to try more outings. Aaron was not objecting to doing things with his brother. I did not want it to end now, we still had so much summer to get through.
“How about this,” I said trying to let my voice sound light, “Nic, you can go on one last ride. Aaron, I’ll get you the cotton candy you wanted. Then, we will go home.”
Nic’s body relaxed. Aaron rolled his eyes.
Nic chose the Ferris wheel. On the way over, I bought Aaron some cotton candy. All was, again, right with the world.
Then, we saw the sign. No single riders meant Nic couldn’t ride alone. He would have to ride with a stranger. For some kids, this wouldn’t be a problem. Nic, though, he wouldn’t ride with another kid, at least not a stranger. I didn’t want to let him ride with an adult I didn’t know.
Nic started to release a slow growl. “I have to go on the Ferris wheel!”
Aaron rolled his eyes. I was not going to let this afternoon end in a tantrum, no matter what I had to do. “How about another ride?” I suggested.
“You said I could pick one last ride! I pick the Ferris wheel!”
I looked at Aaron. “I’m not getting on that thing!” he said before I could even ask the question.
“Nic, I’m sorry. I can’t leave Aaron down here all by himself.” And, I am scared to death of getting on that thing anyway, I said only to myself.
“Mom, I’ll be fine,” offered Aaron. “I’ll stand right here and eat my cotton candy. No one is going to take me.”
There I stood at the foot of the Ferris wheel trying to decide what to do. The idea of leaving Aaron alone, where I could see him but not reach him if he needed me, frightened me more than was probably healthy. The idea of being on the Ferris wheel brought back childhood panic was being stuck at the top with my sister wildly rocking the seat and pretending to fall out.
Nic’s ears were turning red, a sign that he would not hold it together much longer. I looked at each of the boys. I looked around at all the other kids running around without any sign of watchful parents. Aaron tugged on my sleeve and whispered, “It’s okay, Mom.”
With my legs feeling wobbly and my heart-racing, I took a seat on the Ferris wheel next to Nic. As the ride began to move, I felt my stomach drop. Beside me, Nic’s smile grew wide. He closed his eyes, tipped his head back and let the wind sail through his hair. Below, Aaron munched on his cotton candy and waved up at us. I wanted to wave back but my hand was frozen to the bar meant to keep us in the seats.
As the first pass around completed, I thought ” Okay, I can do this.” That was until we started to go up again and stopped right at the top. I felt as though my heart had stopped. I imagined myself slipping under the safety bar. Falling to the ground, my skirt lifting over my head. My granny panties being seen by all embarrassing me only slightly more than my thighs that had not seen a razor for about as long as it had been since they had seen the sun or exercise. Nic’s grabbing my had brought me back to realty where I was relieved to see I was wearing pants and still seated on the ride.
The look on Nic’s face had changed from joy to fear. “Is the ride broken? How long do we have to stay up here?” he asked, a small tremble in his voice.
“Hey, buddy! We are fine. They are just letting so other people on the ride.”
“Look!” I said, trying to distract him. “There’s the library. Oh, and that’s where we got ice cream!” Then with all the courage I could muster, I looked down and pointed. “There’s Aaron! Let’s wave. Do you think he can hear us from here?”
Nic smiled down at his brother. “Hey, Aaron, up here!” We all waved furiously to each other.
Through the rest of the ride, I pointed things out to Nic. I asked him what his favorite rides were. His smile was back. He was having fun. Aaron was safe and proud of being able to stay by himself.
It was my favorite day that summer. It was the day that my boys made me face my fears. The day that I learned to trust them, myself and the universe just a little bit more. Now, whenever I hesitate to do something, I think of the Ferris wheel and ride anyway.