A few weeks ago, I took my son and some friends to Six Flags for his 14th birthday. I wasn’t sure what role I would play: would I stay with them, would we just meet up at the end of the afternoon? I brought a book and journal, some pens and a packed lunch, prepared to find a table to sit and work.
I used to ride all the rides with my kids, laughing and squealing, and hoping to stay at the amusement park as long as we could. Now that my son is a teenager — with his monosyllabic utterances and semi-permanent snarl — I feel I should be different. It would be weird if I rode the rides with them. It would embarrass him if I laughed too loud, if I said something silly.
As I scanned the gravity-defying rides in the Gotham City area of the amusement park — The Joker, Harley Quinn, Bat Wing — an orchestra swirled through the speakers a mood of doom and danger. When a triumphant crescendo filled my chest, I imagined Batman swooping to save someone from the clutches of a villain. This is why we love superheroes — they make us feel like we can do anything.
I watched the boys get onto ride after ride, telling myself, This amusement park is for the kids. I’m a mom, I’m too old, it would look weird, I should work.
But I was drawn to the Wild One, an old wooden roller coaster like the one I used to love growing up. While the boys were contemplating the Fire Ball, I walked ahead and climbed into a seat by myself.
Prosecco bubbles pinged through my body as the coaster clicked up the hill and I surveyed the rides below, now like toys on a playroom rug. When we reached the top of the hill, the coaster slowed, and then finally dove. My hair and eyelids and lips flew back, and I screamed and laughed and gasped, and when we went over a ribbon of hills, my butt lifted off the seat and for a few moments, I was floating.
We all have a cornucopia of qualities and capacities, but so many lay dormant or suppressed. I am both civilized and wild, a mother and a child, a student and a teacher. I am good and bad, light and dark, mysterious and plain. To be all of these things is to expand into our full potential.
When the ride pulled into the station and no one was waiting to take my spot, I asked if I could go again. “Yes, ma’am,” the guy checking seatbelts said, “Yes, you can.”
That evening I needed a long nap and an Advil, but I felt full. I may not leap off skyscrapers in muscly black armor, but there are other ways to be powerful. Sometimes when I do what scares me, exhausts me, embarrasses me, I feel free and I remember that am much bigger than I think I am.