09 September 2011

Hershey Park, Hurricanes and Facing our Fears

Two weeks ago, my husband took a day off of work so we could surprise the kids with a trip to Hershey Park for the last official day of summer vacation.  Only 1 of our 4 children had been to Hershey Park (part of a school field trip last May), and our youngest had never been to any kind of amusement park at all, so we were all full of smiles and excitement as we piled out of the car and trekked across the parking lot to the front gate of Hershey Park.
Once inside, we studied the map carefully, trying to decide which ride to hit first.  Emily (the one with Hershey experience) declared that our first stop had to be The Lightning Racer - a double roller coaster, where the 2 trains race each other along side-by-side tracks.  It was her favorite ride when she and I went with her school group in May (when we rode 3 times in a row), and she was certain that everyone else would love it as much as she did.

So we started our trek across the park to the roller coaster.  On the way, however, we saw a ride that Katie just had to try: the Starship America - a ride much like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland, where you sit in a spaceship and it spins around while you use a lever to make your ship go up or down.  Katie, Becky and Ben loved it.  They had so much fun zipping their spaceships up and down.  Emily thought the ride was fine, as long as she could keep her ship riding as low as possible, because raising it up was just too scary to even think about.

Then, Ben insisted that we stop at the Pirate Ship ride - the one where you sit in a "boat" which swings back and forth like a giant pendulum.  Becky and Ben thought it was amazing and so much fun!  Emily and Katie decided that you absolutely couldn't pay them enough money to even go on this ride.  They were scared, even watching us from the ground!

We finally made it to the Lightning Racer.  Katie was nervous, but Emily assured her that this roller coaster wasn't too scary.  We were sure that we'd finally found a ride everyone could enjoy.  We were wrong.  Katie cried through the entire ride, and for about 5 minutes afterward.  She didn't enjoy her first roller coaster experience one bit.  ("That was way too scary!  I hated it!") 

And so it went throughout the day. At almost every stop, someone was afraid and someone else thought the ride was the best one ever.  On the Wild Mouse (a roller coaster that gives the illusion that you're going to zip right over the edge of the track before it whips you around in a sharp 90-degree turn), Emily and Becky teased Daddy when his fear of falling manifested itself.  We simply couldn't find anything that everyone could truly agree on. 

Finally, I suggested that we ride the Ferris Wheel together as a family.  I reasoned that it's a nice, slow ride and we could all sit together in one of the gondolas and look out over the park.  What could possibly be scary about a ride like the Ferris Wheel?  Emily was nervous, because it seemed awfully high, but she agreed to go, and we joined the line.  About halfway through the line, Ben started teasing her about how high it went, and she lost her nerve.  When Daddy agreed to sit out the ride with her, Katie got out of line too, leaving only Ben, Becky and I to ride the wheel.  Becky and I thought it was great.  We pointed out rides we'd enjoyed, rides we wanted to try, and rides we hadn't even noticed on the map.  We marvelled at the beauty of the setting sun, and we chatted about all the fun we'd had throughout the day.

Ben sat as still as possible, holding onto the support bar in the center of the gondola with a death grip and praying for the ride to end so that he could "get off of this infernal contraption."  When Becky got overly excited and started bouncing around in her seat, causing the gondola to shake a bit, he pointed out that we were suspended high up in the air connected to the wheel by only the center support bar, and we weren't even wearing seatbelts!  When the ride ended, he literally bent down and kissed the ground, then declared that he would never ride another Ferris Wheel as long as he lived.  I laughed and teased and told him it was kharma ("I guess you shouldn't have teased Emily about her fear of heights!") until Daddy pointed out that Ben wasn't playing around.  "He's really scared, honey. You need to stop talking about it."

Only Becky wasn't scared.  She gleefully rode each ride, never sitting one out, and never losing her smile.  By the end of the day, we were all calling her "Fearless." 

But no one is truly fearless.  The next day, when Hurricane Irene came sweeping through our little corner of the world, my little "fearless" Becky cried for hours at the sound of the strong winds whipping through the trees.  And I had to remind myself not to laugh at the absurdity of her fear, as we sat, tucked in, all warm and cozy in our house, listening to gusts of wind that never got higher than the winds I grew up falling asleep to in wonderful, windy Wyoming.

Fear doesn't make sense.  It's silly and illogical, and more often than not, we can't pinpoint a definite reason for our fears.  Yet everyone has something they're afraid of.  We've all heard about the importance of facing our fears.  We know that we can't live our lives in terror, that sometimes we have to take a deep breath and do something we don't want to do.  So when we notice that someone we love is afraid of something truly silly ("how can you possibly be afraid of insert-name-of-your-biggest-fear-here???"), we want to help.  We point out that airplanes are statistically safer than cars.  We reassure each other that the bridge over the bay is highly unlikely to collapse while we're driving across it.  We drag each other to events designed to make us "face our fears." 

We all know that, if only our friend, sister, father, or neighbor-next-door truly understood, they wouldn't be afraid of the silly things they're afraid of, so we laugh and poke fun and make jokes to show our loved ones how truly ridiculous their crazy phobias are.  Perhaps, instead, we need to remember my husband's wise counsel.  "He's really scared, honey.  You need to stop talking about it."  Remember, you're afraid of something too, and I might think your fear is just as silly as you think mine is. 

Personally, I'm terrified of snakes.  I worry that they're having little snake conventions where they plot and scheme and make plans to attack me as soon as I let my guard down.  I don't read books about reptiles, I don't watch Discovery Channel specials, and when we go to the zoo, I wait patiently outside the reptile house while the rest of the family goes in to look.  My kids have learned not to even mention "the s-word" in my presence.  My phobia doesn't make sense to them, but they love me enough not to make fun of me for it (too much).  They know that "There is no afear in blove; but perfect clove casteth out fear: because fear hath dtorment." (1 John 4:18)  Maybe that's something we all need to remember.

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