Taking the Plunge: Mom-fear Versus Kid-fun at the Water Park

Taking the Plunge: Mom-fear Versus Kid-fun at the Water Park


It will be fine, I say, as if those words could push away their worries. 


“Mom,” Brennan says. “Are you going to chicken out?”

Liddy crosses her arms over her turquoise swim suit and squints at me accusingly through the glare of the sun, waiting for my answer.

“No way,” I say, with a forced smile. “I’m in.”

The three of us are pressed together in the brutal heat with dozens of people — adolescent boys, mostly, dripping with sweat and chlorinated water. Sun and sunscreen are burning my eyes and, as we slowly ascend the steep wooden steps, my bare feet are steeped in some muck I’d rather not consider. I peer down over the side of the waterslide steps at the miniature people down below, and my heart is going 60 miles an hour.

When I was eight or nine years old, I took my first turn on a real roller coaster and promptly threw up. I haven’t looked back. Until this morning, that is, when Liddy woke up crying in advance of our big trip to the Cape Cod waterpark featured in The Way, Way Back. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t want to go without Daddy.” I thought she just meant she’d miss John while he was stuck at work, until she talked about how, on our last trip to Water Wizz, I only rode the lazy river ride. How I read my book at the picnic table while John went on every ride with the kids, screaming and laughing alongside them.

So here I am at Pirate’s Plunge waiting for a signal from bored-looking ride operator indicating that it’s time to step forward, lie on my back and slide feet-first into the rushing water, then rocket down a fifty-foot drop.

I think about various scenarios that could get me out of this situation. A lightning storm. Vomit on the waterslide. A lost child who needs help finding his family. I search frantically for thunderclouds or a sobbing child. Nothing.

We wind closer to the top and the kids offer advice. Lie as flat as you can, Mom. Fold your arms like a mummy. Close your eyes. Hold your breath. Oh, and when you think the ride is over? There’s one more really big drop.

What am I doing? I am the mom who sits under the beach umbrella while my kids ride the waves. When camping involves a long hike into the woods with the gear on your back, I stay home. And when we had the chance to ride a flight simulator at the San Diego Maritime Museum, I sat out as my family whipped their way through 360s and Liddy screamed “Help me! I need a hairbrush!” into John’s ears.

A teenage girl takes her turn and I count — 1, 2, 3, 4 — getting to 30 before the operator at the bottom signals that she’s reached the end. I can take anything for 30 seconds, I think. Right?

I have plenty of time, while I’m standing here shaking, to think about all the occasions when I expect my kids to do something that scares them. Rolling up their sleeves for a flu shot or stepping on stage for a school performance. Or simply going to an unfamiliar place to meet new people can cause them no end of anxiety. It will be fine, I say, as if those words could push away their worries. Remember this feeling, I tell myself. Remember how it drills through you, how you’d give anything to escape.

But there’s no more time to think now. Brennan drops down with a grin and pushes himself off the side for extra speed. Then Liddy gets the signal and throws me a last pleading look — Do it! — before she drops down, face scrunched, and disappears. And then I am getting an unenthusiastic “thumbs up” from the bored ride operator and I crouch down, knees shaking, in my skirted mom-suit.

And then, I am flying, catching air. Freezing-cold bursts of air and water and I am terrified and thrilled and mostly, mostly terrified. My butt slams down on the base of the ride, and it’s done.

“Yeeaaaahhhhh!” I hear them before I see them, bobbing up and down as they cheer and laugh, both with me and at me. “Mommy, you really did it!”

I stand up shakily, gasping, with my suit twisted in all the wrong places. I catch my breath and wave at them. And I smile, knowing I’ve earned the right to watch from the sidelines next time. And feeling certain that, when they face their next time, whatever it is, they will have earned a pass, too.

Photo: Megan Dempsey

The Worry and Wonderment Of Parenting

The Worry and Wonderment Of Parenting

By Lindsey Mead

0-12One morning in the middle of the year Grace was in 3rd grade, while driving to school, I asked both my children what they thought they would remember as the main thing they had learned from me. Why I asked I’m not sure, but legacy and lessons were on my mind. Whit blurted out, “Potty training,” and all three of us laughed.

“Well, Whit, that is one thing I’m awfully glad you learned,” I said with a grin.  Grace was looking out the window, pondering.

“Manners, I think,” she said, hesitating. “Oh, and paying attention.” I glanced back and caught her eye in the mirror, then brought my gaze back to the road.  “Yeah, that. You talk so much about wonder. I guess paying attention to the wonder.”

We pulled up to school and the moment was gone. I walked both kids across the street and into the gate, pressed kisses on both of their cheeks, and got back in the car. I caught a glimpse of Grace’s profile as I waited to pull out and drive away, and was struck by how it still looked exactly like the silhouette of her as a nine month old that I’d had painted onto a Christmas ornament.

All day I thought about wonder. Urging my children to really notice things, and to remain open to wonder, is without a doubt one of the central themes of my parenting. I am extremely porous to the world, to both its grandeur and its terror, and sometimes this overwhelms me. If I were paying slightly less attention, for example, perhaps I’d be able to get through a day without being brought to my knees by the slicing realization of how fast it’s all going. But I don’t know how to be in the world any other way. And so I’m left with what I notice, and with what I wonder.

I have so many questions about what lies ahead on this mothering road. On Grace’s tenth birthday, one of my close friends expressed disbelief (and perhaps a little frustration) at my sentimentality. “Why do you feel sad,” she asked, “When we’ve talked about how it keeps getting better?”

I don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully it will keep getting better. Probably, it will. But right now, everything feels tremendously uncertain, and I can’t see very far ahead. I keep thinking of EL Doctorow’s headlights, reassuring myself that I can make the whole journey this way.

What do I worry about? I worry about guiding Grace through the enormous physical changes that lie ahead for her. I worry about all the things that may chip away at her self-esteem: the attention of boys, eating disorders, huge pressure to perform at school, tension about admission to selective schools. I worry about keeping at bay technology that could distract or harm her while also realizing that she will grow up in a world where familiarity with those things is crucial. I worry about how to preserve her interest in the outdoors and in unstructured play—what feels like the essence of her childhood—in a world that privileges accomplishment and achievement.

I worry about the over-sexualization of young girls and what that means about what she should wear, when she should pierce her ears, or wear makeup.

I have opinions about all of these areas. I’ve never been short on opinions. But one thing I’ve learned in over 10 years as a mother is how quickly what is can vanquish what we thought would be. I used to scoff at when people said their children were their teachers. What a cliché, I always thought to myself, rolling my eyes internally. But now I understand it. Grace has overturned my assumptions time and again, and I expect that will continue to be true as we move forward into this next phase.

All of these fears are real. But I know there is one central, overarching worry.  It is that our relationship will irrevocably fray. I worry that if that happens we won’t recover the closeness we share now. I believe fiercely in the importance of my daughter’s blossoming independence, and over and over again I actively foster it. But in my deepest, most honest mother heart, I worry that I’m not myself strong enough to weather months or years of her desire and need for distance. My most common and frequent worry—occurring to me several times a day, at least—is that this season of my life is almost over.

But braided through all these worries, there is so much wonder. There was the wonder of my toddler daughter stooping to notice a weed poking through the sidewalk, or the wonder of my six year old son the first time he made contact with a baseball pitched at him. There is the wonder we all feel at the “fairy stream” near the tower that we love to climb, and the wonder that sweeps over me when I watch my sleeping children, the babies they were once animate and visible in the planes of their faces.

The web of worries is wide, but twined throughout it, there is so much wonder.

Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston. Her work has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources including the Huffington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, and Literary Mama. She blogs at A Design So Vast and is also on Facebook and Twitter. 

This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of motherhood