We planned to take our 13-year-old daughter and her friends to Stuttgart, Germany's Cannstatt Festival (held at about the same time as Munich's Oktoberfest). As luck would have it her friends became unable to go, one by one.
One had been grounded for punching her brother, another for not finishing her chores, and the third was whisked out of town (the mother told me of her in-laws) by a sudden and most unexpected appearance of grandparents.
My daughter slumped onto the train, sure it would be the most boring time of her entire life. "We are daring and adventurous people," I told her. "And most importantly, we have money!" My talk of vendor shopping, eating chocolate-covered stuff, and knocking over stacked cans for stuffed animals fell on deaf ears.
She wanted to ride the rides and was sure she'd have to ride alone, not ride at all, or worst of all have to ride with one of us. Her eyes brimmed with tears. Having raised two children already, I knew her feelings of newlyteen hopelessness would abate as soon as we were in the heart of the festival.
Meanwhile, I was still lamenting my bad hair week. No amount of spritz, mousse, or spray had tamed this naturally wavy mess into any sort of order. I clipped it into place and left it at that.
Once off the train, we turned the corner into the main causeway of the festival and there it was in all its neon glory: the first ride. As soon as she spotted it, my daughter forgot all about her friends and the curt insinuation she'd made earlier that older people probably wouldn't be up for such things. This, she had asserted, despite our having ridden rides with her and her friends every festival before that. It's amazing what turning 13 does to the mind.
She grabbed at her father and pulled him toward the ticket booth. The two large seating compartments of the ride held about 20 people each and were flung high into the air. Each compartment then went its separate way, around and over, and over again.
If not for the sheer speed of the ride, a person could potentially see every square inch of the festival from several different angles, several different times.
I would have nothing to do with a ride like that. I can go fast and I can go 'round, but I can't go aloft. Unlike some who are taken to their knees with nausea, I'm one of the few whose stomach stays in place. However, at that height, my mind would convince my body that mortal danger was imminent. I would barely notice my heart attempting to beat its way out of my chest or the rigidity of my limbs because I would be screaming at the top of my lungs.
Leaning out a window of the Neuschwanstein Castle without realizing there was a 100 meter drop just beyond, I panicked and threw myself backwards. I'd closed my eyes so tightly it took me several minutes to open them. Even then I couldn't see clearly for another few minutes. You could call it an irrational fear, but at least I wasn't hurled out that window by a mysterious force and slammed into the rocky grounds below.
My husband has no such fear — of anything. In his mid-40's, he's still as fearless and capable as ever. Marine boot camp, war, and driving in Italy will do that to a person. Earlier in the week, he and a friend emerged from one of the beer tents at the festival and went for a ride in a big plastic ball attached to bungee cords. They were slung some 30 meters into the air, bounced back and forth, and came away laughing hysterically, not an ill look between them.
My daughter and husband paid their Euro and saddled up for three minutes of physics-defying, action-packed thrills. I couldn't watch. My fear of heights extends to my children. They aren't smart enough to be scared so I'm scared for them. That's what the phobia tells me, anyway. I watched an older gentleman cut the silhouettes of festivalgoers from paper.
My daughter came bounding off the ride with the look of someone who was not only ready to go again, but also higher, faster, and in ever more directions. My normally jubilant husband bounded not so much. Despite this mild day with a light breeze, he was sweating profusely, clammy, and cold to the touch. He said he needed to sit down. I found him a spot and a tepid cup of cola. I told him to sip slowly and breathe. He would recover within thirty minutes and enjoy several other harrowing rides, but just then he didn't look well.
My bouncy and oblivious daughter was gleefully pointing at all the different rides and had decided which one was next: the largest transportable Ferris wheel in the world. It measures 60 meters in diameter. That wasn't hard to veto.
She turned and pointed again, this time to the highest roller coaster in the festival. At less than half the height of the Ferris wheel, it was going to be hard to come up with something other than "No, I could die. Do you want me to die? What kind of a daughter are you, anyway?"
The roller coaster wasn't as topsy-turvy as the ride that took my husband out of commission, but it was twice as high off the ground. I mumbled under my breath, "Oh, great. He's sick and I have a paralyzing phobia." I spit on the "P"; I was that scared.
My bubbly child caught a glimpse of my expression and halted in mid-bounce. She looked down at her father and then back at me. I was still woefully trembling at just how high up that roller coaster went. She eeked out a soft and heartfelt plea, "Mom?"
"Oh Jesus." Yes, I was praying. For guidance. For strength. For invisibility.
I looked back at my husband, then at the ride and then at my daughter. The ringing in my ears began with my first step forward. I could barely feel my daughter holding my hand while she jumped up and down.
This would prove to be the third and, hopefully, final indoctrination into full-fledged motherhood. The first came when my ex-husband precariously placed my then-infant son on the edge of a truck seat. Mothers know I need say no more. The second came with my oldest daughter's flight from a merry-go-round into the trunk of a tree.
As my youngest and I stood in line, I deliberately averted my eyes from the ride itself. Every now and then I would glimpse my husband, head down and still not looking good. I breathed in, breathed out, and told myself I had to do this. I'm a good mother. I can do this. There was no rational reason not to do this — other than falling hundreds, if not thousands of meters to what would surely be a most painful and sustained doom.
My eyes clenched shut the moment we sat down in the compartment. I was sure this was the end. I told my daughter I loved her. She laughed and hollered out along with the rest of the crowd, "gehen wir!" ("Let's go!")
At first it was an interesting sensation to be aware of height without seeing how high up we were. Interesting, and then frightful. With no way out, I gripped the bar in front of me for dear life. My heart began its attempt to escape my chest and I felt my lungs filling with what would be a deafening cry.
The descent into hell had lifted me straight out of my seat. I could feel my fingernails embedding in the palms of my hands as I let loose with a blood-curdling scream. My daughter again laughed. This was oddly comforting. I became aware of the two clips I'd had in my hair. As we dove down, flew up, and twisted to and fro, I could feel the clips being pulled out. It was the same mysterious force that would propel us from the dubious safety of our seats, I was sure. Around the next twist I realized the clips weren't in my hair anymore. 'I'm next,' I thought. 'God, just make it quick!'
About the time I'd come to terms with my own demise, the ride was over. For all my fear and my heart still pounding in my chest, it was all so anticlimactic. I held tight to my daughter while my eyes desperately tried to open and refocus.
We made it over to my husband, who was now standing and feeling better. He looked at me and said, "Wow! Your hair!" I started to finger-comb it when my daughter stopped me and said, "No, no! It looks great!" Naturally, I did not believe them. I scoured the area for a reflective surface and found it in the stainless steel sidewall of a schnitzel stand. Sure enough, they were right. It did look great. In fact, it looked stupendous! Not only had I faced my fear and come out of it alive, I had great hair to boot!
Now, where's that Mother-of-the-Year award?
Ich Liebe Cannstatt!