Frightening With a Chance of Fun


“You promised, Mom”, said Harrison, tugging on my bathing suit as we ascended the tower towards the Mexican sky.

I nodded solemnly and continued to climb. I had given my word to my son, an oath which took me so far out of my comfort zone that I needed a passport and an oxygen tank to complete the round trip. In a fugue of over-enthusiastic mothering, I had pledged to zip-line.

At the age of fifty- one, my idea of the perfect hot weather vacation is to park myself on a lounger in the sunshine, read book after book, tourist watch and sample drinks that are both exorbitantly fruity and cheaply alcoholic. I am happy to occasionally walk into the sea and stand with my hands on my hips surveying the environment – the snorkelers, the scuba-divers, the lap-swimmers, and the polo players. I go in only up to my waist. This way, I cool off and maintain my hair-do at the same time. I don’t go on vacation to exercise, diet or risk life and limb to get from Point A to Point B. For those trials, I can simply stay home.

While away, my family decided to visit a new adventure park that is built through underground caves and rivers, dazzling with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites that have grown for hundreds of years. Even though I would have preferred to simply see photographs, I did not want to go down in history as the party-pooping ancestor. Eight year old Harrison was keen to drive in the amphibious vehicles and swim and raft through the underground caves, but during dinner the night before our sojourn, he revealed trepidation about the zip-lining adventures that were also offered.

My husband and older son, Charlie, tried to coax him into a commitment. Harrison’s dad told him that it would be the greatest fun of his life. Harrison’s brother told him that he would be a big chicken nugget if he didn’t do it. I maintained radio silence. I figured that if Harrison didn’t want to zip-line, he and I could linger at the promised extravagant buffet while the rest of our family knocked themselves out. After all, the boy is only eight and besides, exhibiting a fear of heights and speed is healthy. If G-d had intended us to zip-line, He or She would have embedded carabineers in our spines.

But then, something called champagne unleashed my tongue. “Harrison” I said. “I’ll make you a deal: if you zip-line I’ll zip-line, too.”

My husband looked at me askance. He knows that I harbour fears of heights and speed as well as the nausea, panic and dizziness associated with those terrors. But, I was feeling good demonstrating the “all for one, one for all” chivalry of family life. Harrison would decline my offer, and while the other two zip-lined, we would nosh nachos while playing Crazy Eights.

Harrison hesitated and my cavalier smile froze. “Really, Mom? You promise to zip-line if I zip-line?”

My husband echoed his question. “Yes, Mom. You promise to zip-line if he zip-lines?”

“That’s what I said.”

And, so it was that I found myself climbing the tall spiral staircase with a harness chafing my inner thighs. Charlie held his carabineer up to my face. He enjoyed mentioning that this small piece of metal was the only thing standing between me and certain death. We passed signs indicating that people who suffered from acrophobia as well as heart disease, back ailments and vertigo should probably not zip-line. We had also been advised that once one began the zip-lining course, there was no turning back. All these chestnuts of information caused me to shake, a condition I quelled by concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. A stairway to heaven, I thought; Perhaps, literally.

At the top of the tower, we were greeted by a smiling young woman who surveyed our family and decided that the “little boy”, Harrison, should first zip-line attached to his “mamma”, me. How kangaroo, I remember thinking. How much hoppier I’d be on the ground.

I considered that we were relying on a complete stranger to clip us in and keep us safe. What if I reminded her of her horrible mother-in-law? What if the fellow who was set to stop and catch us had gone on a bender last night and couldn’t stay awake? Yes, I flew to Mexico on an airplane piloted by an unknown professional with a potential multitude of unresolved issues, but I was able to knock myself out for the flight. Zip-lining requires a degree of awareness.

Just when I thought about begging to be shown the secret passage out (I was convinced there had to be one), Harrison and I were clipped in and told to sit down and relax. That last word made me laugh. I told Harrison that I would probably shriek the whole way down. He told me he would shriek too to keep me company. Then, suddenly, we were flying. I channelled my inner McCauley Culkin from “Home Alone” when he shapes his mouth into a large “O” and unleashes the biggest scream ever. Harrison let loose too, except he channelled his Austin Powers yelling “yeah, baby, yeah!”

In a blink, we careened into the next station, exhilaration causing us both to giggle. “Why you yell so much?” asked the alert young man who unbuckled us.

“It enhances the fun,” I said realizing that it was fun after all.

At day’s end, with our hair plastered down from repeated encounters with water, my family tiredly mounted the bus for our hotel. I was content because I had slain a fear and discovered a pleasure. But, nothing felt as meaningful as the shy look of respect in Harrison’s gleaming brown eyes. “I can’t believe you actually zip-lined, Mom,” he said.

“Neither can I, Buddy,” I said, shaking my head and marvelling at how from the moment they are conceived, our children make us braver.

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