Today I took my three-year-old to a small carnival. A first for him. Upon arrival he spotted the green rollercoaster. He was so excited and insisted that he wanted to ride it. Deep in my belly I knew better, but I didn't want to make his decisions for him. I told him that he would have the "shaky, tickle feeling in his belly" just like when we were on the airplane-he didn't enjoy that at all and was on the verge of tears on takeoff and landing. He insisted further that this was the ride for him. I pointed out how the other kids were sitting on their butts and holding onto the bar with both hands. I would wave to him and he could smile at me. So, we bought tickets, we waited in line and after waiting for several turns he raced up the steps and jumped into the car. He told me that he wanted me to wait for him right by the gate instead of going to the other side. So, I stood and watched as my big, but oh so little, guy took off on his first roller coaster ride.
My heart banged in my chest and I gripped the railing as I saw his little joy-filled face turn to panic. The muscles in his body were so rigid that he did not move an inch as the mini rollercoaster went up and down and round the curves. He passed me once, twice, three times, four times, FIVE TIMES!!!! Each time he passed I saw the panic in his face and I tried to smile an encouraging smile, but I was laughing nervously. His little eyes were darting around trying to find me. "Where is my mom!? Where is she? Save me, Mom!" his face seemed to scream.
Then, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. After what seemed like ten minutes, but was less than one, the little green serpent rolled to a stop. Staring through the bars that separated me from my son I saw the biggest grin ever stretch across my big boy's face. He hopped out and ran to the stairs. He asked for ice cream. With blue sprinkles.
He was fine. I was holding back tears.
He was so confident and so brave. He knew that he wanted to try something new and daring. I wanted him to spread his wings (just a little bit at a time) and try out new experiences. It occurred to me that I had never been in a situation where my son needed me and I couldn't get to him. Short of climbing over the railing and injuring myself while wrestling down the serpent I was left to watch as my child faced what must have been something just shy of terror. (I say terror because of the look on his face.)
So, I am left with some questions. Should I have kept him from the ride since I knew that he would probably not like it? I don't think so. Where is the line when it comes to letting my kids make their own choices? When physical harm is likely? Yes, that is easy. When they might be pushed to new emotional limits like today? Hmmm. Why am I having such a hard time with this while my son moved on to ice cream? Sure, he told his dad that he rode the coaster and that it was scary, but in the next breath he said that he wants to go back tomorrow to ride the train. (The train is on level ground and goes a bit slower.)
I guess both of us experienced some growing pains today. Mine are still hurting.