As the Patriot roller coaster screamed overhead, its passengers’ legs swinging freely from the ski-lift-style seats, my son looked warily toward me.
“That,” Jack said, “looks terrifying.”
“It probably is,” I said. “That’s kind of the point.”
We were in line for the coaster, our first ride of the day during a middle school band trip to Worlds of Fun. The other boys in Jack’s group had hustled straight toward the ride as soon as we stepped through the gates of the park, the Patriot’s red, white and blue looping track like a star on the horizon.
Jack hesitated a bit but finally followed his classmates and me into the line.
He chatted nervously, and I struck up a conversation with the two teenage girls in front of us.
“Have you ridden this before?”
“Yeah,” one nodded, smiling.
“How bad is it? It’s not so bad, right? I mean, it’s quick, right? Like, two minutes? How bad can that be?”
They shook their heads and smiled at each other. Silly old woman.
By the time the coaster’s train zipped overhead and Jack’s brow furrowed, we already were near the loading platform and our only out was the “chicken gate,” which every middle-schooler knows simply isn’t an option.
“I don’t get it,” Jack said. “How is this fun?”
“Hard to explain until you’re up there,” I said, vaguely recalling my last roller-coaster ride, several years before the kids were born. “Kind of like life, I guess.”
Jack rolled his eyes. The gate opened. We loaded into the seats, pulled down the shoulder harnesses, and gave each other a quick fist bump.
Two minutes and 18 seconds later – after a 149-foot climb, a 123-foot drop, an 89-foot vertical loop, a zero-gravity roll, an Immelmann loop, an inclined banked curve, an S-curve, a corkscrew and a high-speed spiral (all this, according to the Patriot specifications on the Worlds of Fun website, because I was closing my eyes and screaming too much to keep track) – it was over.
And it was awesome.
“You did it!” I told Jack as we strolled down the ramp. “Wasn’t that fun?”
“ ‘Fun’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind,” he said, grinning.
Then we headed toward the Mamba, gazed skyward at its jaw-dropping initial peak, and the dance began again:
Jack: No way, I’m not doing that.
Me: Oh come on, yes you are.
Jack: No, I don’t think so.
Me: But I need a seat partner. You want your poor mother to ride all alone? And look, Shamir’s doing it! Right, Shamir? Tell Jack he needs to ride it.
It wasn’t one of my proudest moments as a mother, but I had a higher purpose. And Shamir was pretty convincing.
As our train click-click-clicked up the first hill – 45 seconds can seem an eternity – one of Jack’s classmates groaned, squinched his eyes shut and frantically gripped the seat beside me as Shamir, next to Jack in the seat behind us, spent the entire climb loudly apologizing:
“Wow, Jack. I’m really sorry about this. I’m sorry I did this to you. I’m really sorry, Jack. Oh my gosh, Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!”
We rode coasters the rest of the day. After a while, I stopped having to persuade Jack to get in line.
On the bus ride home, the spins and curves of the Boomerang and Prowler still fresh in my mind, I remembered that scene from “Parenthood,” one of my favorite movies, when Grandma wanders into the room and randomly shares her roller-coaster memory:
“You know, it was always interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened,” she says. “So scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled, all together.
“Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing,” she says, shrugging. “I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
Me, too. Let’s go again.