fear of falling

I’ve often wondered why people at amusement parks so frequently seem to be in a bad mood. Then last weekend, landisdad and I took the kids to an amusement park. While we were there, the following thought occurred to me:

When you’re a kid, going to an amusement park is fun, because you think you’re immortal and nothing can hurt you. When you’re a parent, going to an amusement park is terrifying, because you know how many things can go wrong, and here you are, deliberately putting your child into harm’s way.

From about the time the Bee learned to walk, I suffered from a recurring nightmare. This dream would visit me once every six months or so, and always took the following form–me, landisdad & the Bee on some high, touristy place (the Empire State Building, a mountain, the Grand Canyon). And the Bee fell over the edge.

When the Potato was born (and learned to walk) the dream became so intense that whenever I would have it, I’d wake with my heart pounding, would run in to check the kids’ rooms, and would be unable to go back to sleep for at least an hour.

Needless to say, going to amusement parks and riding on things that go high in the air is not number one on my list of fun things to do with the kids.

I’m not really sure where this fear came from. Pre-kids, I was never afraid of heights. I climbed all manner of high things. For pete’s sake, I practically majored in climbing around in rigging, when I was in college. But somehow, the fear of heights became a stand-in for all my parenting fears, became the thing that embodied everything in my kids’ lives that might go wrong.

So it’s an act of faith for me to climb up on a ski-lift-y type of thing with the Bee, and to dangle our feet several stories above ground, as we travel leisurely from one end of a park to the other. Speed-wise, and gyroscopically, it’s by no means the scariest ride around. But from my psyche’s perspective, it might as well have seventeen loop-the-loops and a straight drop down fifty feet, y’knowwhatI’msaying?

I finally get why parents at amusement parks spend so much time yelling at their kids. It’s because we’re spending half our time on an adrenaline rush of “is-that-thing-hooked-on-really-and-isn’t-he-much-too-little-to-ride-it-I-don’t-care-what-Mr.Inchworm-says,” and the other half of the time fending off our children’s requests for ice cream.

I did eventually get rid of my kid-falling dream, after a particularly vivid experience imagining the Potato falling off the Golden Gate Bridge. I made myself go back to sleep that night, and dreamed I jumped in after him. Now, why do I want to pay $80 to recreate that experience by visiting Six Flags?


August 24, 2009. thoughtful parenting.


  1. jo(e) replied:

    You know, I have often wondered why people seem in such bad moods at amusement parks, and your explanation makes sense.

  2. landismom replied:

    Hah, you know, it’s funny, I was thinking about your post about the waterpark when I had my own revelation.

  3. Phantom Scribbler replied:

    For me it’s the sensory overload that puts me in such a bad mood: the flashing lights on every ride, the motion everywhere, the impossible-to-escape piped-in music. I do marginally better if it’s a cool, cloudy day, or if the place isn’t too crowded. But I think the only way I could NOT have a meltdown at an amusement park is if the admission prices were low enough to justify only going for 2-3 hours at a time. That’s about the outer limit of my ability to tolerate it, I think.

  4. Jennifer replied:

    We don’t have amusement parks here; we only have the county fair. And my son LOVES the county fair. We go at noon — it’s always blazing hot but since the rides open at noon, we are among the first ones there. I don’t have to worry about losing my kids among the masses and they don’t have to wait in line longer than 5 minutes. And to Phantom Scribbler’s point, the fair is cheap enough to stay for just three hours. (This year they were so worried about low attendance due to, you know, the 20% unemployment in this county that they had free bus service to the fair and, on Friday, free admission.)

    Anyway, I am not more worried about death & destruction at the fair than I am in the mountains. Which is not to say I’m not worried. At any given point I’ve got low- to medium-level anxiety that something terrible will happen!

  5. Elizabeth replied:

    The Six Flags near us sells season passes for $50 a person, which is the same as the undiscounted single day admission (you can usually get $10 or so off). We’ve done it the past two years, and it’s great, because it means that we can go for the two or three hours, and then leave without feeling like we haven’t gotten our money’s worth.

  6. Comfort Addict replied:

    I cannot imagine how tough parenting is. However, watching your child fall from a great height seems an apt metaphor for worry about her. I’m glad that the dream has left you.

  7. the five-year mark « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] a jam-packed month, with the tea parties, and various vacation-related events. The kids started school before Labor Day, for the first time […]

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