Scary Roller Coasters are as Bad as Cancer
My eight year-old daughter, Josephine, has had a falling out with one of her best friends recently. I don’t know what exactly caused the rift in the first place, but the girls have found themselves in some sort of altercation on a near daily basis.
This experience has furnished me with one of the great perks of being a parent – that of being privy to some of the most insane, hilarious and strangely poignant conversations I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.
While I’m truly sorry that my daughter is hurting, gems like the following exchange don’t come along every day, offering a glimpse not only into playground dynamics, but the inner workings of a child’s mind.
My daughter’s friend: “My life is so much harder than yours – you’ve just got it too easy and you never have to deal with anything big.”
Josephine: “I can’t believe you would say that. Do you know how many scary roller coasters I’ve been on?”
At this point in my daughter’s play-by-play of her fight with this former best friend, I said, “Well, honey, you’ve also had cancer and nearly died a bunch of times.”
Josephine: “Yeah, I know. And then do you know what else I told her? I said, ‘You’ve never even been on the Mach Tower at Busch Gardens and I HAVE! They drop you two-hundred feet in the air!”
On one hand, Josephine’s implied assertion that roller coasters are scarier than cancer sounds utterly ridiculous – the kind of thing that makes my mother flick her hand and say, “Oh, you kids! You know nothing” But in a way, she’s right. Scary roller coasters certainly feel scarier than cancer. They go at breakneck speed, are discombobulating, give you whiplash and make your stomach drop. Illness is more methodical than that. And more insidious. You can look fine, feel fine, but be just months away from death if you don’t do something about it – fast.
What my daughter was describing is the rawness of fear, as a child is apt to do. We adults tend to be far more rational about it. We soothe ourselves with statistics, recalling that the chances of our fun car derailing on a series of loopty-loops is minuscule. Grown ups tend to get all hot and bothered about the things we don’t and cannot know. Things like death, or love, or God.
Childhood is in the moment.
Charles Schultz was a genius at bringing the realities of childhood to the surface with his Peanuts cartoon. Instead of portraying children as sweet innocents who flutter fairy-like through their early years, he showed us our young lives as they truly are: periods of loneliness and ennui interspersed with tremendous surges of hope and excitement and joy. Friendships come and go when we’re children, and only the lucky ones have staying power. Some drift away then come together again spectacularly. Others end abruptly and irrevocably. Childhood is a bipolar experience, at least in my memory, and filled more with outright insults than passive aggressive slights.
The above mentioned former best friend of my daughter’s, for instance, also told my daughter that they could no longer be best friends anymore because Josephine just wasn’t popular enough for her and she had bigger plans for recess than merely playing fantasy games. There’s a game of four square that she’s set her sights on, and Josephine hates four square, so that’s not going to work at all.
I kind of appreciate the girl’s honesty, even if she is sounding more and more like a little s**t.
An adult might have simply backed away slowly, calling less, liking your posts on Facebook, but not engaging with you in any meaningful way – “I’m sooo busy!” A grown-up is more capable of neglecting to invite you to her wine and cheese to-do, then telling you, “It was all the women from my book club. You’ve wouldn’t have known a single soul,” as if she was doing you a favor.
Childhood, however, is brazen and brutal as much as it is magical and electrifying. It is crass. And those very first indignities, the ones that are shameless in their execution, are also the ones that teach us how to interpret the foggier disputes that come later in our lives.
Young people make it easier for you:
“I don’t like you.”
“My dad says your dad’s a loser.”
Most adults have learned how to duck and weave and smile. It’s up to you to decipher whether you have, perhaps unintentionally, offended a friend, or whether her life has overwhelmed her and she has, genuinely, little or no time to devote to your friendship right now. Or if she has simply moved on to greener pastures.
She’s not going to tell you it’s because you’re ugly.
Similarly, a boss might talk around your deficiencies, explaining where you could use “development” instead of outright telling you that you suck and she’s scratching her head as to how you could’ve landed this job in the first place! It’s up to you to figure it out. Make it right, if you even can. Or move on.
So, as I listen to the painful, cringe-inducing stories my children tell me about some of the profoundly horrible things their so-called friends endeavor to say to them without so much batting an eyelash, I try to remember there’s a long road advantage to these Charlie Brown episodes. To not always getting invited to the party, or getting the Valentine, or procuring the right Christmas tree for the school’s nativity play.
We are meant to learn from these barefaced encounters – the ones that sting and leave us standing there baboon butt-red with embarrassment. Those initial callouses are useful and necessary to our later resilience.
They are the scary roller coasters that prepare us for cancer.