One, Two. One, Two, Three. I've Got a Ticket So Ride With Me.

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 14, 2006 1:25 PM

I'm officially a grown-up, now. Why? Because yesterday marked the first time, in my life, that I have spent an entire day at a theme park and gotten out of it unsunburnt.

I’m what they call fair-skinned. I used to use Clinique make-up. Because you pay $20 a bottle for the stuff, the wordsmiths at Clinique are polite enough to come up with flattering names for the various colors, like Alabaster and Ivory and Suntanned and Summer Sand.

Apparently, my skin color was too white to warrant a special name. It was foundation 01 (as in, the lightest they have) and it was called, Pale. Yes, that’s right. Pale, right there on the bottom of the bottle every day, in case your mirror isn’t working properly. Why not just go all out with Casper or Mortitia?

So, you see, spending 8 hours at a theme park and not getting burnt is quite the accomplishment. And I did it, with a strict regimen of standing under overhangs and generous, frequent reapplication of sunscreen.

The fact that I was conscientious enough to pull this off is a genuine turning point in my life. Of course, I had to be on my best behavior. I was chaperoning a group of about 20 high school kids from Alexandria on a Young Life trip to Six Flags. This, for the record, goes under the category of "Things That Are Scarier Than a 7-Story Rollercoaster."

But our kids did a great job. They stayed in groups, stuck with chaperones, rode on rides, caused no trouble, and generally followed rules--for a whole day. Perhaps it's the soft bigotry of low expectations talking, but I was thrilled with that.

Not only that, but we Young Life leaders got to spend a whole day hanging out, having fun, and hearing a little bit more about the surprising, sometimes frightening, lives these kids lead. Many of them are equal parts handful and miracle.

I do love a roller-coaster, sometimes to a fault. The last time I went to Kings Dominion, I ended up lying on a bench outside "The Volcano" at 8 p.m., with a migraine like I hadn't had in years. I guess you can only shake your brain in your head so many times in one day before it starts to send you signals.

"What are you saying, Brain? That the 18th ride on the 'Mind Eraser' was not the course of action you would have chosen? Well, tough luck. This day is brought to you by Body and Adrenaline, with an assist from Goody’s Headache Powder."

Oh, but that perfect, weary cocktail of migraine, dehydration, sore feet, and wet jeans (stupid log ride) is getting noticeably harder to soldier through each year. I guess that would explain why my parents never seemed to like the theme park as much as my brothers and I did.

But, man, there is nothing like a theme park for a kid. I met a 6-year-old in line for one of the tamer rides. He looked up at me, a whisper of sweat on his dark brown brow.

His eyes widened. "This," he said, stamping a tiny Nike for emphasis. "Is the funnest day of my life!"

And I knew it was not hyperbole.

His mother looked at me and smiled. "It's his first time at a theme park," she said.

I imagine by the time they left, he was sacked out on his mama's shoulder, cheek smushed against her clavicle, simultaneously limp and loving in the way that small children are when they know they're resting somewhere perfectly safe.

Whenever I see that scene, I instinctively think, "Somebody had a big day."

I used to be thinking of the kid. These days, I'm more likely to think it of the mom, who will be up early tomorrow, despite sore feet and a migraine, trying to keep up with a pair of tiny Nikes searching out even funner things.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you, and thanks for taking us to the theme park.