A ride of passage

“Want to go on a boat ride, buddy?” I asked my two-year-old son Zack, not being entirely forthright about the nature of our upcoming nautical adventure.

“No,” he replied. 

You know how kids will just say whatever they think their parents want to hear?  Me neither.

“But don’t those little boats look like fun?  We can all fit in one,” I said.  By that point, we were nearing the front of the sweaty, snaking line, so I had to close the sale fast.  I pictured my dad trying to stuff our old family cat into the crate before a trip to vet, then pictured myself trying to cram our youngest child into the log flume boat at Hersheypark as he yowled, scratched and fought his way back out. 

“Brother?” he asked.  He idolizes his older brother, but can’t pronounce the “v” in Evan yet, so the word “brother” is the first thing he says in the morning, the last thing he says at night and the loudest thing he screams when expressing mutual interest in whatever Evan happens to be playing with. 

“Yes, your brother is going, too,” I said.

Zack nodded, sale closed.  If his brother would ride a boat over a fifty-foot cliff, then Zack would, too.  It would have been a very brave decision, if either of them had had any idea that that’s what we were doing.

Evan actually understood, on an intellectual level, that he was going to ride a boat over a waterfall, but he couldn’t really know what that meant without experiencing it.  To that point, the wildest ride he’d ever taken had been the time I didn’t notice the speed bump in the Babies R’ Us parking lot.   

Zack had no idea, though.  Bringing an unsuspecting two-year-old on a scary amusement park ride might sound like poor parenting, but my wife Kara and I had done our research the previous evening.  Hersheypark gives you a free three-hour pass for the evening before the date on your admission tickets, which more than makes up for the fact that Hersheypark should definitely be two words. 

So we ditched the kids with their grandparents and visited the park by ourselves, free for the first time in over five years to hop in line for rides that didn’t have cars shaped like ladybugs. 

“We can finally ride roller coasters again!” Kara said.  When we got there, none of the rides had lines longer than ten minutes.  We were soon to learn that roller coaster lines have obscene wait times to protect you from yourself.  The human brain needs an hour-long cool-off period before it can happily handle sloshing against your cranium again.   

“No more roller coasters,” we agreed after an hour, woozily.

That’s when we investigated the log flume as a potential family ride for the following day.   

“No way, that would terrify the kids,” we agreed, laughing as the boat skimmed to a splashy stop. 

Then, in front of us, a family disembarked from a boat holding a smiling baby who looked newer than the latest iPhone model.

“Do little kids usually come out of the boat screaming?” I asked the teenaged attendant.

“Nah, they love it!” he said.

About fifteen hours later, our family’s boat bounced its way toward the big drop, both according to and against our better judgment.

“Are you holding Zack?” Kara asked.

“Yes, of course!  Over my head, so he can get a better view,” I replied.

“Not fuuuun-nnnnyyy!” she said, wrapping her arms around Evan as the boat plunged down the hill. 

Afterward, the kids were quiet. 

“Did you have fun?” I asked Evan as we walked across the big rotating floor.    

“Yes.  Can we not do that again?” he replied. 

Zack agreed.  That was fun, let’s never do it again.

Next time, it might be tougher to stuff the cats into the crate.

You can go over the edge with Mike Todd at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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