Yesterday I took my five year old son to Playland, an amusement park in Vancouver. And I have to say that objectively the whole thing is a complete rip off. I bought our tickets online for $81 because it was supposed to be a discount over buying tickets at the gate, only to find that there was a promotion going on when I arrived and I could have bought tickets at the gate for $50. Nowhere on the website did it mention the promotion. Also parking was supposed to be $12 but when I arrived I was charged $20 because the PNE Fair is going on and that was deemed a “special event.” So $100 later we’re let into a fairground that is specifically designed to part you from even more money. Carnival games where you can play to win cheap toys that will break in about 10 minutes were everywhere. Food was expensive. The rides for kids under 48 inches tall were mostly pretty lame, carousel variety stuff. Any kid looking for something more thrilling was limited to one small rollercoaster that quickly formed a huge line. The ride itself lasted about a minute. And it was CROWDED! We went right at opening on a Wednesday morning and immediately upon walking through the gates I began to fear that my kid would be swept away in the tsunami of a crowd. I herded him around like a border collie with a repetitive soundtrack of “stay close!” and “hold my hand!” and “wait!” I forked out $10 for one of those crappy carnival games so he could win a fidget spinner that started shedding shiny blue paint five minutes later. The place is a hell of sensory overload with flashing lights and loud music and too many people and screaming and rides that look like corpses of carnival attractions from the 20s. But…we had so much FUN!
We entered that grungy money grubbing wasteland and had ourselves the best mother/son date I could ask for. We ate those greasy mini doughnuts covered in cinnamon suger; we saw the Superdog show at the Coliseum where we clapped like maniacs for dogs jumping over progressively higher fences; we oohed and ahhed at baby piglets at the agricultural fair then practiced our hog calls at the pig races; my son tried his first rootbeer float and decided it was manna from heaven; and we went on every single crappy kid ride together…
Which brings me to the Gravitron (or the Alien Abduction ride). Almost every single ride for kids was ridiculously tame: we did bumper cars, the spinning tea cups, swings, slides, and a variety of rides where you sit in or on something (a train, a boat, a horse, a motorcycle) and go around in a pathetic circle for about 45 seconds. My son loved all of it, and I loved it because he loved it. But the one thing I didn’t love was the Gravitron. Sadly, it was the first ride we went on as it was located by the park entrance. And based on the other rides kids were allowed on I have no idea what the Playland organizers were thinking. I went in all bluster. I had been on one about 25 years ago and remembered it being fun. You know the ride–it’s the one that spins so fast you stick to the wall. In the Alien Abduction you stick to panels that slide up the wall so your feet are no longer touching the ground. An adult next to me asked if my kid would be okay. I said he would, given that he tends to like going fast. No one asked if I would be okay.
We got on and my kid seemed a bit nervous. He wanted to hold my hand and I obliged. Look at me being the good mom, I thought, all protective and comforting. Some flashing lights started, then very loud music. The Gravitron started spinning, which is when my anxiety disorder announced that it had come along for the ride.
“This thing is going really fast,” Anxiety said. “Like really fast…like UNCOMFORTABLY fast!”
“You’re probably going to die in here,” Anxiety said.
I could feel my heart starting to race. As we spun faster and faster people started to scream. The force felt like sand bags piled onto my chest. I tried to look at my son to see if he was freaking out but I couldn’t turn my head. When the ride accelerated yet again the panels we were leaning against slid up the wall and hit the ceiling with enough force to jolt my neck painfully. The ride slowed and we came back down the the floor…accelerated and we’re back at the ceiling…slower…faster…slamming into the ceiling…slower…faster…slamming into the ceiling.
“I think it’s pretty likely that you’re going to suffer a stroke, or suffocate, or have a heart attack,” Anxiety said casually.
“Can you actually breathe at all?” Anxiety inquired. “Because I don’t think you’re getting enough oxygen. You’re probably going to be brain damaged.”
I realized that I was gripping my kid’s hand to comfort myself. I was beginning to think I might have a full on panic attack. The sensation of being pressed to the wall was horrifying.
“I wonder if your bones could be crushed in here,” Anxiety mused.
My mouth went dry and I had to concentrate on taking one breath after another. I was worried that my son would be traumatized but I was plastered to a wall and couldn’t help him.
When we finally stumbled out into the painfully bright morning my son looked up at me all glassy eyed and flushed and said “can we do that AGAIN?”
For the rest of the day he asked about the Gravitron. He was too small to go by himself and I just couldn’t bear to get on that thing again. I could have handled just about any ride that spins you around or drops you or flips you upside down, but I could NOT handle another trip in the Alien Abduction ride. I staved him off with maybes, hoping I would feel stronger by the end of the day, but a persistent headache from slamming into the ceiling wouldn’t ebb. Finally I had to admit that I couldn’t do it. I bribed him with ice cream and he accepted the trade.
My favourite moment of the day was perhaps our ride on the ferris wheel. At the top we could see out over the fair grounds. My son and I were sharing that tiny (paint chipped, slightly rusty) container in the sky and I felt a rush of gratitude. The tiny human who was born to a mother with postpartum depression was growing up beautifully. He was smiling and laughing and having a (mostly) idyllic childhood. He hugged me and said, “this is the best day in history!” and maybe he wasn’t far off.
We drove home after spending seven hours at Playland. We were dusty and exhausted and slightly dehydrated but so very happy. My son prattled on about the rides and the fidget spinner he won, and the awesomeness that was the Gravitron, all the way home. We’ll likely go for broke and do it all again next year. I’m hoping he’ll be 48 inches tall by then so we can just scream ourselves hoarse on the rollercoasters and skip the Gravitron altogether.