My oldest daughter and I climbed aboard a carnival ride the other week and she left a part of her early childhood behind. The smells of cotton candy and pulled pork drifted through the air and karaoke singers whined in the background as we handed our tickets to a heavily suntanned, bearded worker. He fastened the metal bar over our laps as Megan chatted excitedly and waved to my husband and our 1-year-old daughter who stood watching. Megan is 5 years old and eager for new, big kid experiences.
We were attending a festival sponsored by a neighborhood Catholic parish, and we told Megan she could choose two rides. She went for the fastest and tallest ones, hardly giving the tame kiddy rides a second glance. She and I rode The Paratrooper. It looked like a Ferris Wheel set on a wild angle, and it was fast. As it picked up speed, the individual cars swung out so our feet were pointing not down at the ground but higher, at the horizon. Megan whimpered briefly and cried out, “I’m a little scared.”
I must be getting too old for these things because I was a little scared, too. The last time I got on a ride, I was nearly 10 years younger and still single. I was corresponding with my future husband on eHarmony.com but had yet to meet him in person. In the years since, I’ve either been pregnant or toting an infant around, and we just didn’t do amusement parks. But Megan is growing a little each day. Our lives are broadening.
I put a protective hand over Megan’s hand and held it tight, partly to comfort her and partly to comfort myself. Also, I had irrational mommy thoughts and wanted to be able to grab her if her small body somehow, impossibly, were to slip through the lap bar holding us in. Who lets tiny 5-year-olds on crazy rides like this anyway, I wondered? I told her it was okay and that the carnival workers make sure the rides are safe. We flew high above rush hour traffic on the interstate next to the church grounds, and I really hoped the suntanned man had securely fastened our lap bar.
It didn’t take long for Megan to get over her fear and enjoy herself, though. As we zoomed along, she chattered about all the things she could see from up high and admitted she was glad I made her wear tennis shoes and not Crocs, which would have flown off her feet. After a few minutes, the ride slowed and jerked to a stop and we staggered off, our heads spinning. I felt a bit euphoric the rest of the evening. I had never ridden a thrill ride with my daughter, and that shared experience was a cool thing. Megan also rode the Ferris Wheel with my husband. When I asked him later if she was nervous, he said, “Not a bit. She talked the entire time.”
Megan continues to impress me with her curiosity, her courage and her desire to try new things. Earlier that day, I took her to swimming lessons and watched her fearlessly jump off the diving board for the first time. She loves to collect and touch the bugs we find in our back yard. She is getting good at walking across the monkey bars with her hands. She just learned how to do flips on the gymnast rings on our swing set. She also recently figured out how to snap her fingers. As Megan grows older, her brain is a sponge and she gains skills and knowledge at a dizzying rate. It’s fascinating to interact with her.
Everywhere I look, though, I get the message that childhood is somehow at its best when our children are very small. I can’t browse Facebook without reading quotes about how I’ll never get this day back, how my babies will never be this young again, or how I should not wash my dishes because my children will grow up. I feel guilty for cleaning my bathroom, even if it desperately needs scrubbing. Childhood is brief. I get it. I sometimes feel sad when I think about how my daughters used to be tiny little babies, but I don’t want to spend my life mourning the past and wishing my children were babies again. I might miss all the great things my children can do in the present.
Fellow blogger Katie recently wrote about how her kids have become fun as they’ve grown older. I’ve noticed the same thing, and it should not always be a sad thing. It’s just different. I can’t stop time. I’d rather focus on all the neat things my on-the-cusp-of-kindergarten child can do and find reassurance in her success, knowing that I did something right during her early years. I may as well enjoy the ride. Just make sure my lap bar is fastened good and tight.
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