The Dragon-Riding Boy

A few weeks ago at the county fair, among the many other things that caught Max’s eye (including his new interest in the midway carny games) was a kid-sized roller coaster that he referred to as “the dragon train”. It was apparently designed to look like the Loch Ness monster.

After standing there watching it operate for about ten minutes, Max developed what appeared to be an excruciating desire to go on this ride. Rose and I of course said no, but he kept insisting. So against our (really Rose’s) better judgment, we decided to let him do it. The rest of the riders were, by appearance, five- to seven-year olds. Since he was too short to ride by himself, I shoehorned myself into the car with him. He kept telling me to get in the car behind him--he was a big boy and didn’t want me in the same car. In what seemed to be a preview of junior-high-esq behavior, he was really bothered that I was riding with him.

When the half-paying-attention high-school-kid-operator hit the “start” button, the train lurched forward violently and then picked up even more speed as it connected with the spinning drive-tire mounted between the tracks at the first curve. This ride was definitely not for 3-year olds. Max had a minor freak-out.

Rose jumped up onto the platform and yelled at the operator to stop the train, which he did. (Later, someone commented that Rose looked as if she were going to throw herself across the tracks to stop that train...) All the older kids started grumbling because their ride was interrupted, and I quickly started to unlatch the restraints to exit the train.

Max’s eyes were open as far as physically possible, he had a few tears on his red cheeks, his hair was blown back, and he was smiling the uncertain smile-frown of someone who had just, say, bungee-jumped for the first time. “No, Daddy, I don’t want to get off.”

“Are you sure, Max?” I asked as I was holding him close. Rose wasn’t going to have any of this. However, after about twenty-five seconds of silent visual debate between Rose and me, and a couple more queries to Max, we decided to stay on.

As we whipped around that short oval track about ten more times, Max mimicked the older kids, squealing as we went up and down and around the curves. Because of his age (and consequent size), he was buffeted about much more than the older kids. I watched his face as we rode, full of terror, excitement, curiosity, and a few other things I can’t quite identify, other that to say that most of what he was feeling was probably good for him. For the duration of the ride I held him as carefully as he’d let me, sweating, making sure that he didn’t get jolted too hard. The whole thing lasted about one minute, but Max and I felt like we were flying for hours.

He talked about that ride all night, and over the next several days, and I think there’s a chance he’ll always remember it. He would tell us, “That guy stopped the ride, and they asked me if I wanted to get off, and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to get off, because I’m a big boy.’” He was so proud of himself.

Max very is highly responsive to loud noise, sometimes gets scared easily, and tends to be quite cautious. He’s a very sensitive boy, but here’s what else I’ve learned: He’s also very brave. He seems to have a natural inclination to face things that scare him. This, among many other things, makes me very proud of him.

It makes me think, maybe I’m brave too.