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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Finding courage on a coaster

How do you give courage to a child?

That was the only thought in my head as the young college girl checked that the bar was locked into place in my lap. As I looked over at Patrick standing on the outside, my heart was breaking for my middle son.

Moments earlier as we stood in line for the Blue Streak, his first roller coaster, I could see his heart beating out of his skinny chest. His lips were white and while most kids laughed and joked in line, Patrick was deadly serious, not once cracking a smile.

Nothing I could say would ease his mind. "Cedar Point could never stay in business if people got hurt." "Do you know how many tests they run before these coasters even open?" In fact, I tease him that he has a war waging in mind, but that’s in fact what happens.

“Can I fall out of this coaster?”

“What if it breaks down on the track?”

“What if it leaves the track?”

“Has anyone died on this coaster?”

He doesn’t verbalize any of this, but I see it going on behind his beautiful green eyes. I want to swallow his fear and never let it surface in him again. But I can’t take it from him because it’s part of who he is.

As he and I prepared to get into our seat, he started crying and panicking.

“Mom, let me out! Let me out! I can’t do this! Let me out!”

And so I let him pass through and walk to the exit ramp. Maybe he thought I would join him, but I stayed put. A few cars behind me, Danny and Ryan were ready for the first ride of the day.

As the train pulled away I looked at him with my most compassionate, “but I would have kept you safe” look. He immediately put his head down.

I don’t remember much of that very short ride, except that I’m pretty sure my back will never be the same from getting jostled so violently. I was thinking what a long day it would be at Cedar Point if we couldn’t convince Patrick to ride.

We had surprised the boys that day. While Michael was having a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s we took the older two to Cedar Point. But as the train pulled back into the loading area I saw him standing in front of the Blue Streak sign with his T-shirt pulled from the neck over his face.

The neckline of his T-shirt was soaked from tears. He was ashamed and embarrassed by his fear.

“Patrick, I know you’re scared,” said Danny, “but we’re here all day. I want you to promise me you’ll try one coaster. You might like it, but you’ll never know unless you try. If you don’t like it, you won’t have to ride.”

Patrick was crying, something he does easily still at nearly 12, and said he wanted to ride but he was just so scared. But he promised his Dad he’d give one a try.

As we headed toward the Millennium (because Ryan was chomping at the bit to ride the big ones), we passed the little Wildcat. “I can ride this one,” Patrick said, suddenly brightening up.

“Well, okay,” Danny said. “This looks good. We’ll all go.”

Ryan rolled his eyes a bit, but was willing to wait a little while longer for the Millennium in order to help his brother overcome his fear.

As we waited, Patrick seemed to grow more excited—and nervous. I saw him eyeing the intricate web of steel holding this contraption together. And I can guess the kinds of things that were going through his mind.

But he rode with me next to him. And though I occasionally heard him start to panic, he seemed to free his mind enough to enjoy. As we hobbled off, he was all animated and excited and said he loved the coaster. And so it was on to the next one.

The Mine Ride was lame and stopped twice during the run, which irritated both boys. And so we decided to try the Mean Streak. We stood in line under the wooden coaster, which fortunately meant Patrick really couldn’t see its size. We had a plan, however. He and I would look at each other going up the hill.

It wasn’t the speed of the hills and turns that frightened him. It was the slow high crawl up the first hill. The anticipation of what’s to come. As we climbed higher he noticed the blue of Lake Erie and how pretty it looked. And then we plunged to speeds he’d not yet experienced. At one point, he put his head down and said he was going to be sick. But then he looked up and found he was actually enjoying himself.

It was then that I realized that he had to find courage within. I would never be able to give it to him no matter how hard I willed it. That saddens me in a way that makes me feel inept as a mother. But as one who also is internally driven, I’m proud of his ability to conquer that monster.

After that, it was smooth sailing on the Gemini and the Magnum. He knew his limits and the Millennium would never be in the cards for him.

While Ryan and I went to wait forever in the Millennium line, Patrick told his Dad there was one ride he needed to conquer. They rode the Blue Streak six times that evening.

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