Prior to having kids, my husband and I watched a movie called Parenthood. This 1989 film produced by Ron Howard was billed as a comedy, yet portrayed the reality of family life as well as any drama I’ve ever seen.
Which brings me to today’s Moment.
One of the four parenting stories features a middle-aged father named Gil, played by Steve Martin. Gil has a difficult relationship with his own father, so he strives to be Super Dad to his three kids. However, when his oldest son’s erratic behavior threatens to change his school placement to special ed classes, Gil is frantic. Add to that his wife’s unplanned fourth pregnancy and work pressures, the guy is out of his mind with worry. Here are my favorite clips from the movie, when Grandma shares her words of wisdom and Gil finally gets their meaning:
In case you can’t access the video or want the short version…
[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room] Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Gil: Oh? Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! Gil: What a great story. Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
I like the merry-go-round. It’s pleasant, safe, and predictable. When our daughter was little, we’d take her on the one at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and she would smile and wave each time she passed by. Life was good. Life was simple.
Routine is our merry-go-round. We get up, send the kids off to school, do our work, the kids return home for dinner, we help with homework, watch tv, and go to bed. Then we do it all over again the next day. I enjoy routine; I like doing laundry and keeping to a schedule. Our son, being on the autism spectrum, craves routine–although it often constrains him (and us).
There’s something to be said for breaking out of the ordinary and taking a risk. It keeps us fresh, ready for anything life swings at us. It clears the cobwebs from our brains and exercises our imagination.
Our daughter graduated from the merry-go-round and was a roller coaster pro by the time her brother was born.
Life for my family changed drastically with his autism diagnosis. Five years and hundreds of ABA therapy hours later, we took a family outing to an amusement park. This was a big deal, driving hours away from home and everything familiar. We had prepared our son with photos and talks about what to expect at Sesame Place, and he knew he was going to see Elmo, his favorite character, but it could go either way. New experiences often triggered extreme anxiety for him and tantrums could ensue. Luckily, the morning at the park was a huge success. He enjoyed it all–the water rides, the characters, the shows, the food, and the shops.
Then we saw the kiddie roller coaster. How I wanted my son to share our love of thrill rides! Should we push our luck? Heck, yeah. How would we know if he liked it if we never tried? We waited with bated breath to learn if our second-born would relish or fear what the rest of us in the family adored.
By the second dip of the tiny coaster, his eyes lit up and he wore a grin the size of his face.
Since that magical day, we’ve enjoyed the mega coasters at Great Adventure in New Jersey and those at Disney World and Universal as a family. We even brave the Tower of Terror at MGM Disney in Orlando on occasion.
I’ve witnessed a positive change in our son after each of these adventures. He becomes more emotionally connected and animated afterwards, the results lasting weeks or months. Other parents of children on the ASD spectrum have noted similar responses from their kids, including gains in language and learning after trips to places such as Disney.
Like Gil in Parenthood, I’ve learned life has a way of shaking us silly with its unexpected twists and turns. We can learn to hold on, savor the wind as it whips through our hair, and dare to try as we plunge into the next adventure. We can choose to keep with the status quo and get satisfaction out of the little things. Or maybe, just maybe, we can embrace both, being responsible when necessary, unbridled when possible in order to grow–whether as parents or individuals. What do you think?
Do you prefer the merry-go-round or roller coaster?