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Posts Tagged ‘Getting Old’

Alternate History.

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I am locked in a metal cage that is spinning around several hundred feet up in the air. It could be several miles–I’m really bad at distances and measurements–but I don’t really want to think about it too much. My teeth are clamped shut and my lips scrunched up together. My legs are splayed, straining for purchase against the metal floor, and my arms are locked in front of me, my hands flat against the grid through which I can see the trees and neighborhood school and the road and the blue, blue sky flying by.

My eight year old son is next to me, and he has control of the metal bar that spins our personal cage around and around even as the creaking, shrieking machinery spins around the wheel we are attached to. At one point I did try to wrestle the bar from his control, but at eight years old and as a budding karate master (he has his purple belt), he has become suddenly, sometimes frighteningly, stronger then me in many areas. Holding on to this bar is one of them. He pushes on the bar even as I am using all my might to hold it back so that we don’t spin. And he lets loose a battle yell as our cage turns over, hanging us upside down, as the giant wheel we are attached to spins us into a descending ark.

I want to scream, too, but I clamp my lips even tighter and hold it in, afraid that if I start I won’t know how to stop.

All I can think is, I used to live and die for amusement park rides. What happened to me?

I remember my dad telling me, at some point, that amusement park rides were no longer fun for him, that he thought too much about what could go wrong. I also remember thinking, “You are so old. How sad for you. I will never be you.”

Of course, he also taught me to “never say never,” and recently I’ve started saying that to my kids.

Only the summer before, while watching my kids go on one kiddie ride after another, I was longing for the summer when my kids would be old enough to go on a “big” ride with me.

Now, here I was, with an eight year old so excited to finally reach the height requirements that he could barely speak, and all I could think of was, “Oh! God! Jehovah! Zeus or Athena! Don’tLetTheMachineLoseANutOrBoltOrAnythingImportant!” I can’t even open my eyes, for Christ’s sake! I’m not that old yet, am I?

Was that it, then? Had I reached the magical threshold when I could no longer find the simple thrill in freefall?

Maybe.

Maybe, I think as our cage comes out of freefall, coasts across the platform, begins another slow ascension and my son promises not to rock the cage if I open my eyes “just for a minute,” maybe we all reach a certain point in our lives when there are so many little thrills we don’t need the big ones.

I shake my head at hum and purse my lips. I can’t even talk, I am so terrified of all the things that might go wrong.

Of course, the last time I climbed into any sort of amusement park ride, cage or otherwise, was before I had kids. Back then, I didn’t care about school bombings or the economy. Pedophiles and kidnappers were bad people, but I was too old to take candy from strangers and, not coming from old or new money, I really doubted anyone would kidnap me. Let’s not even get into drivers who thought the neighborhood streets were the Autobahn, schoolyard bulllies, black market handguns or suicide bombers on planes. The bottom line was, if anything bad did happen to me, it happened to me and ME alone (my husband and parents and friends and family–they would have been heartbroken, of course, but they would have survived).

No, before I had kids, the most thrill I got out of my day was when a male friend was late to work one morning and the admin called up to ask me if I knew where he was. We came from different directions, and we took different trains, but the insinuation was that I knew where he was because we PLANNED coming in at different times. You know, like celebrities leave restaurants at different times. Gosh darn it, I said, you figured us out.

I (and my friend) had a lot of fun with that one for a long time.

But in the end, it still wasn’t nearly as much fun as whipping around in the Scrambler at Great America, or climbing the biggest roller caoster knowing that two seconds after you’re hurtling down at 80 miles per hour, you’re going to flip upside down and for a moment, just a single moment, feel like you’re flying.

No, before I had kids, I didn’t have the daily thrill of wondering if my son would finally choke on his food, he was laughing so hard. Or the constant excitement of waiting for my daughter to flip off the swing and go flying across the patio because she refuses to hold on with both hands. Of course, I also hadn’t experienced the edge-of-my-seat tension watching that same daughter, just younger, let go of the couch and walk across the room by herself for the first time. Or the pure trill of elation when my son received a Certificate of Recognition from his school for “displaying great teamwork with his classmates and table group”–teamwork being one of his…ummm….troublespots.

So, maybe it’s not age so much as the lifestyle I’m now living. Maybe I’m just overwhelmed. Maybe my thrill-o-meter is full to capacity.

Maybe I’m just afraid that if I think about how all of that stuff makes me feel—really, really makes me feel–I’ll start screaming and never stop.

I open my eyes and look over at my son. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his face quite so animated, his eyes so alight with excitement. His smile is so wide it’s gotta’ hurt. Or does it? I don’t remember my smile ever hurting when I was a kid. It only started hurting after college when I had to smile all the time at work.

“Oh man, oh man oh here we go, Mommy, here we go again!” my son yells. He is literally foaming at the corners of his mouth, he is that excited. He braces his legs against the floor, but not out of need to feel ground under his feet, I can tell. Simply so he can get better purchase on the controller-bar. Oh yeah. Here we go again, all right. We’re at the pinnacle of the ride again, about to go into freefall, and my son is going to flip us upside down and right side up and every which way in between. He pulls back on the bar and we start to tilt forward.

For a very, very long second we are hanging like that, perpindicular to the ground while the big wheel we are attached to stops to let a rider in at the bottom.

All the bad stuff starts to fly through my mind: the nuts and bolts than can fly off at any moment, the carny not paying attention, the economy, terrorists, the state of our checking account–then we are falling, heading straight for the ground even as my son is pulling back hard on the bar and we are rolling around in a jerking circle.

His screams roar out of his belly like a hurricane, and for the first time, I understand there is absolutle terror beneath his delight. But instead of suppressing it, instead of fearing what his fear will breed, he releases it as easily as our cage is pulled down by gravity.

My stomach flip-flops. Our cage begins its plummet downwards. We are upside down, my ponytail tickling my nose, and even I’m pretty sure I’m going to die, for just a moment, just a single second, I feel like I’m spinning, free of everything, elation and joy co-mingling with the fear until I can no longer tell the difference.

Without the one, how can there be the other?

I open my mouth and, inching my fingers over my son’s so we are both pulling back on the bar, I scream.

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A few months ago, after my son and husband caught the new Indiana Jones movie at the theater, my son put together his very own Indiana Jones outfit. For most of the summer, dressed in his overly long tshirt (worn backwards so only the white, not the brand on the front, showed), long-sleeved brown checked shirt that stands in for Indy’s leather jacket, and his floppy sun hat (REI calls it a ‘Research Rambler’), he ran around the yard singing the Indiana Jones theme song and lassoing trees with the homemade whip which he made from stripping a jump rope of its plastic handles.

The best part was that he kept his rope stuffed in his shorts. Not in a pocket–inside his shorts. Even now, several months after the Indy costume has been put to bed, I can still get a giggle at the memory of the looks on others’ faces when Liam would reach into his khaki shorts and pull out that rope. It was a good thing his tshirt was so long.

I didn’t ever have the heart to tell him that some moms were moving their children to the other side of the park when he dove into his pants and came out with a length of rope. After all, even if most of the kids were momentarily stunned when he reached into his waistband for his whip (ha-ha), once he had the whip in hand, they all looked a little envious that he had a whip in the first place, not to mention the handy storage space. Kids don’t, after all, have our framework to find humor or dismay in such behavior.

He was really proud of his costume, and I was, too: this is the same boy who had always refused to dress up until moments before we were leaving the house to Trick-or-Treat. He never got into the whole costume thing that some of his peers did when they were toddlers, and the closest he’s come in recent years to dressing up when it’s NOT Halloween is playing ‘Pretty, Pretty Princess’ with his sister (the game requires players to wear jewelry as they win it). So, maybe you can understand why I didn’t tell him to find a new whip storage, or ask him to take off the outfit completely, even when I realized he was sleeping in it.

I was afraid that if I asked him to take it off, he would never put it on again, and I wanted to enjoy this usually wise-beoynd-his-years boy who, for that brief moment in time was just young. In short, I was afraid if I made him take it off, even to wash, he would never become Indy again. Turns out I was half right.

The last time he was in full Indy gear was a very hot day, at least hot for us in the Pacific Northwest. The kids and I were walking to the park, only three blocks away, but Liam was, as I said, in full Indy gear. When my just-short-of-an-order suggestion to take off his “leather jacket,” was met with point-blank refusal, I tried logic, which usually works on him.

“It has to be 85 degrees out,” I told him, “and it’s humid today.”

“Indiana Jones doesn’t take off his jacket, and he doesn’t take off his hat,” I was told.

“Indiana Jones isn’t real,” I countered.

“Don’t care. Not doing it.”

I suppose, in retrospect, I should have forced him to take it off. But as I said, I was so very reluctant to do that. Worst case, I figured he’d get hot and take it off himself. I guess I didn’t realize how very wedded he was to being Indiana Jones.

Despite the abundance of shade at the park, my son chose the most sunniest area in which to run around and whip out his…whip…(sorry, but the puns and little jokes are endless, here) for at least half an hour. He had a drink of water, and then climbed onto the tire swing with his sister, who can easily achieve a Guiness World Record of Tire Swing Spinning, even after a full meal. He did this several times: play, swing, play, swing. Then we played a game of “Icebergs and Boats,” which he made up and included lots and lots of running and lassoing. It only lasted ten minutes, if that, because I felt the ruless were slanted in the boats’ favors (I was the iceberg, of course), but it was apparently long enough.

My son climbed back onto the tire swing with his crazy spin-addicted sister and within minutes he was pale and clammy and begging me to stop.

Two minutes later, despite moving him to the shade and having long drinks of water, he was close to vomiting. At that point, I forced him to give up his “leather jacket” so I could soak it in the drinking fountain and put it over his head.

“Nooooo!” he cried in outrage, but when I reminded him of the scene in one of the Indy movies where indy was riding through the desert and tied his shirt over his head, Liam agreed that it would, in fact, be something Indy would do. Still, he fell into a quiet which disturbed me.

We made it home. I tucked Liam onto a picnic bench in the shade and my daughter and I half-ran, half-walked up the three blocks to the house. We arrived just as my husband was pulling in, so we piled into the car and drove back to pick up Liam, who was still clammy and pale and very, very quiet. That night, he went into his room and, for the first time in months, undressed for bed.

His Indy outfit was in the hamper, and it wasn’t just a holding place for the next morning.

Liam has gone on to play Indiana Jones since then, but without the outfit. He has decided to be Indiana Jones for Halloween, even. But instead of resurrecting his homemade outfit, he chose a store-bought costume.

“Yours is much better,” I told him. “Ehhh,” he replied. “I can’t wear that anymore.”

I didn’t press, because I sensed he wouldn’t have been able to put his feelings into words, anyway. Much like that alien skin that crawled onto Peter Parker in the second (or third?) Spiderman, that outfit was a whole unit for Liam. Unlike an alien skin that can regenerate, Liam’s alter ego–the illusion he created for himself–was destroyed once a single piece was taken away from it.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to him sometimes at night, when he is fast asleep and there’s no chance of him hearing me. Even as I’m doing it, I know I am neither the first nor the last mother to be sorry for having to do what is necessary, anymore then this will be the last time I will wish I could have done something different.

“I’m sorry,” I tell my sleeping boy. “But sometimes Mommy’s gotta’ do what’s she gotta’ do.”

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