I've loved amusement parks all my life. I've written before about my mysterious, childhood fairy-tale-park experience and am leaning toward the idea that it took place in California. We lived in Pennsylvania until I was eleven, but my dad worked briefly in Fresno, and the rest of us spent a summer with him.
My dad's company (Grove, a crane manufacturer) sent its families to Hershey Park every year for free or at a discount, and some of my best childhood memories are from there. After we moved to East Tennessee, our family visited Dollywood and Opryland (in Nashville). I've visited many other amusement parks as an adult.
An amusement park amuses the parents of little ones in an entirely different way than it amuses freewheeling adults. Jim and I have tended to visit fairy-tale or Santa parks because, for far less money, they offer just as much (if not more) for little children. And let's get real: it's difficult (if not downright impossible) for parents to enjoy roller coasters and shows with little kids; the poor parents just end up walking their hineys off (past all the coasters and shows) to get to the kiddie parts.
Having said all that, we bought passes (through the end of summer) to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, this year. Cade started it by asking for a pass for Christmas; both his junior-high band and his eighth-grade class are visiting Busch Gardens in May. Besides, the families of his best friends have passes, so I think he was hoping to hitch some rides. As it turns out, the little kids are all free (the girls through the preschool-pass program), so Jim and I thought: why not? We've visited twice, already.
Saturday, we avoided the Sesame Street Forest of Fun (where we spent almost our entire, first visit) and at one point, found ourselves walking past Der Wirbelwind: the swings.
I love the swings.
Is Clementine tall enough to ride the swings? I wondered. And as it turns out, she is, and so is my three-year-old. I was delighted. A perk, I thought, to Charleigh's being in the 80th percentile for height. So the three of us got in line. I was so excited.
We got a good little ways in before Clementine started actually watching the swings. "Mom," she said, tugging on my shirt, "I do not want to ride those."
"Too bad," I said, "we're already in line."
She crossed her arms in front of her chest and parked it right there on the concrete. "I'm not going to ride those," she said matter-of-factly. "I'm scared of heights."
"Fine," I huffed, and taking both girls by the hand, I made my way past all the people behind us and back through the entrance of the line. Jim saw us coming and grinned.
"I knew they wouldn't do it," he said. "I know my girls."
"It's Clementine," I growled (and I may or may not have said something highly dramatic and inappropriate, for Jim's ears only, about her ruining my life).
Meanwhile, Charleigh was saying: "Mama, I'll ride with you. I'll ride the big swings with you." I stood there waffling, looking at Jim: did I really want to enter the line again?
"Go ahead," he said. "I'm not in any hurry. You should go."
Charleigh and I waited in line (again). We buckled into our seats and held hands, and just before we rose from the ground, the operator flipped on the lights. Everyone cheered.
As we were swinging, I said to Charleigh: "I love the swings. I feel like I'm a bird, like I'm flying."
"I feel that way, too, Mama," she smiled, and she squeezed my hand.
And it's hard, sometimes, to be a mommy. I have a strong personality. I was very much myself before I had four children. There are times that I feel missing from myself. There's a "what about me" voice inside.
I love my children. I live for them. I wouldn't give them away or back, and I would lie down and die for any one of them in an instant. Still, I fight to appreciate this (fleeting, I know!) season. I have to work at it.
It's hard. You don't know even if you do, and what I mean by that is simply this: you're not me, and your situation isn't mine. I'm confessing that I struggle, that it's not always as happy as it looks in pictures.
But also, this: every once in a great while, there's a moment that I'm fully and authentically myself, and one of my children is right beside me, taking it in with joy, and that's the very best. There is nothing better. Being fully and authentically myself, by myself, doesn't compare. I'm always chasing those moments. I'm always chasing myself with my children in tow.