Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fear (but no loathing) in South Georgia

It's about five flights of stairs up to the top of the Mat Racer at the local water park. From the top, you have an amazing vantage point to look around at the surrounding softball, baseball and soccer fields of the Mill Creek Regional Park complex. Look behind you and you'll see the fields where I spent the better portion of my teenage years playing soccer and where my son now plays and practices. To the left you'll see the softball fields where I pretend to be a softball player for about two months every year. Look down and you'll see the rest of the water park. There's the lazy river, the splash pad and slides for the younger kids. The "mushroom pool" where the water gets a little deeper for the slightly older kids and looking slightly to the right of that you'll see the "bucket pool" where a giant bucket dumps thousands of gallons of water each minute on excited children and young adults.
Ariel view of my local water park.

For the last two years, I haven't got to make this climb up the stairs very often. My son hasn't been tall enough to go down the Mat Racer so every now and again when we were there with friends we'd convince one of the adults to watch the kids while three or four of us would go do something more fun that sit in the kiddie pool and make sure we didn't lose track of our kids.

But this year, this year was going to be different. My son, tall for his age, was going to be tall enough to go down. I was finally going to stop looking on with envy as other parents of slightly older kids walked to do something exciting. No longer would I be stuck listening to the delighted screams of teenagers racing down the Mat Racer while I tried to look interested in my son showing me again how he could walk on his hands in the shallow water.

This was to finally be my time. To borrow a phrase from George Costanza, this was going to be the Summer of Luke, or at least the Summer In Which Luke Had More Fun At The Waterpark Than In Years Past. However, my son is what you could describe as cautious. Extremely cautious. Most of the time, I, as a parent, love this trait about him. He's told both me and my wife on separate occasions to "be careful" when we were going somewhere without him.

However, with this abundance of caution comes a healthy fear of the unknown. This fear can manifest itself in ways I'm not always sure I understand. He doesn't like to go inside friend's houses to play and instead would prefer to either outside or inside our house. For the longest time he wasn't comfortable being dropped off at school in the drop off line and would rather we park and walk in with him. And when it came to the waterpark, he didn't want to go down the Mat Racer. The first time we went this year, he wouldn't even go see if he was even tall enough to go down it, choosing instead to spend his time doing other things there. He and I went one afternoon and stayed for about two hours. For roughly 90 minutes of that time, all he wanted to do was to float around the Lazy River.

I'd offered bribes to get him to go down. Want a toy? We'll go pick it out right after we left. Want ice cream? We'll get some, any flavor you want. Want something else? Sure, you name it. Nothing worked. Nothing I could think of would get him to even consider going down. I asked him why he didn't want to go down and he said "because I like the Lazy River." which is less a reason why he didn't want to go down and more a statement of what he does like.

So I resigned myself to another summer of watching other people enjoy their 10 second trip down the Mat Racer while I looked on with envy. Until that one fateful night when we were floating along the lazy river and my wife was asking my son why he didn't want to go down. As they talked, she unlocked the source of the fear. It was a fear that it wasn't safe for someone his height. Drifting along, she explained that if you were tall enough for the Mat Racer, than it was safe for him to go down. After explaining this a few different ways, he seemed ready to give it a try.

Before we even grabbed a mat, we walked down to the other end just to show him he was tall enough. The lifeguard stationed at the bottom of the stairs pulled out the measuring stick they use and sure enough, he was tall enough to go down. We walked back to get our mats and then began the trip up the stairs. Fortunately it was later in the day and there wasn't much of a crowd. We maybe waited in line for five minutes before we got to the top, which was probably a good thing as it didn't give him time to reconsider.

As we're waiting, my wife and I both asked him a couple times if he was excited. He said he was. He
He's not in this picture, but this is the Mat Racer.
seemed to be. He didn't act nervous or anxious. My wife, on the other hand, was extremely nervous for him. She kept telling me "I can't believe he's actually going to do it."

Finally it's our turn to go. I help him get his mat ready and he lays down on it. We wait for the lifeguard at the top to tell us it's ok to go and when he does..... nothing.

He doesn't go anywhere.

Not because he's scared, but because he hasn't mastered pushing off the back to help him go. So my wife helps get him going and down the slide he goes, us right behind him and then passing him because, well, because the more you weigh the faster you go. He gets down to the bottom with a huge smile on his face. He makes the long walk that all young children who go down the slide have to make because they don't slide as far. He says he wants to go again. So we do. Then again, and again. Now, instead of going around the Lazy River, it's all Mat Racer all the time. TheSummer In Which Luke Had More Fun At The Waterpark Than In Years Past might actually be happening.

Eventually it's time to go, but we go back the next day. Partly because my wife was taking a nap and we needed something to do, but mostly because I want to capitalize on the momentum and keep him going down the Mat Racer so he doesn't get scared again. That's not a problem. All he wants to do is the Mat Racer. Even when the line gets long and it's a lengthy wait, he wants to do it. "What about the Lazy River?" I ask. "No, Mat Racer," he says smiling.

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