I was 16 and my family had made the drive from Washington to Disneyland. I realize that Splash Mountain is technically not a coaster, but a log ride - with a 50 foot drop at the end. Still, it was the first time I rode anything remotely resembling a roller coaster. I remember getting to the top of the chute and looking in terror at the fog enshrouded bottom. I remember Rachel yelling to my dad, "Hold me, Daddy!" I remember gripping the damp hand bars and bracing my feet again the sides. I screamed all the way down.
I was hooked.
Theme parks, fairs, boardwalks, casinos...whenever I see a coaster, I want to ride. I love every moment. The nervous anticipation as I watch the riders ahead of me leave the staging area. The butterflies as I click, click, click to the top of the first drop. That pause at the peak, a brief moment of silence before beginning a decent into the unknown. And then...the drop. The wind stinging my face. The abrupt dip that shoots the car to the top of the next drop. The pressure against my chest as I loop upside down, the world spinning and flying by. Smaller and smaller dips and then...slowing to a stop. Laughing, shaking, ready to ride again.
There's a feeling of perfect freedom. All the stress and worries that plague my mind are wiped away. And while it lasts less than two minutes, I'm left relaxed and filled with a rush of adrenaline that puts a bounce in my step and a smile on my face.
I'm lucky I married a man who loves coasters almost as much as I do. I want to pass this love on to my children which is why, when Joseph saw Splash Mountain and asked to go on, I agreed.
I know that my cautious boy gets nervous at the top of a slide at the playground. I know my little love's need for speed is a bit...slower. But I wanted to encourage him to face his fears and have fun; to let go.
We stood at the rise and watched log after log go down the flume. I explained that it was a big drop and very fast. I asked him again if he wanted to ride. He looked at the logs dropping and asked, "Will you hold on to me?"
"Of course I will, baby. I promise I won't let go."
We walked to the front of the line and stepped into the log. As promised, I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around my little man. "Hold my tummy tight, Mommy!"
"I will!" We rode through the briar patch, the animails, light and music getting more and more frantic. We dropped once. I told Joseph to put his hands in the air and scream. He put his hands up for a moment and then clutched my arms. We dropped twice. He held on for dear life.
"Are you okay?" He nodded his head.
We began the long climb to the top. I whispered into his ear, "There's going to be a big, fast drop, but I'm going to hold you tight the whole way. At the bottom, we'll ride into a party."
He held on tight and then, like my dad with my sister, I snugged my arms around his belly extra tight and dropped with him into the foggy water.
When we got off, I asked him how he liked it. He paused for a moment and said, "I liked the party."
"Did you like the drop?"
"No. Yes. No."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. You held me tight."
Do I have a budding coaster rider on my hands? It's too early to tell. But he left Splash Mountain with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face.
Mandy Dawson is a wife and mother of two living on the Central Coast of California. She blogs about the roller coaster of motherhood at http://inmandyland.blogspot.