This past weekend, a carnival rolled into our end of town. All weekend I hummed and hawed over whether to take Hayden or complete the mountain of chores at home. When a kindly old man gave us a free sheet of tickets at breakfast, the scales tipped and Hayden and I dashed off to the fair before nap time.
The first ride we came to was the merry-go-round. Hayden pulled on my hand and pointed to every horse that galloped by as we waited our turn in (a thankfully very short) line. Once we got through the gate, Hayden carefully chose his horse with the concentration of a seasoned jockey. I hoisted him on the horse and stood beside him, watching the smile widen across his face.
As the ride began, Hayden's grip tightened and the smile spread right up into his eyes. It dawned on me at that moment that this was Hayden's first ever carnival ride...and his daddy wasn't there to witness how much joy it brought him. The reality mixed with my overabundance of hormones left me with tears streaming down my face as we spun in circles. Crazy preggo meet touching first childhood experience.
We left the merry-go-round with a spring in our steps and toured the rest of the carnival. Hayden was drawn to all the large, vomit-inducing rides like the twirling strawberries and the drop zone. When he set his eyes on the giant ferris wheel, I knew I had to compromise. Amazingly, we both enjoyed it. Hayden would point out the "too fast for mummy" Matterhorn ride every time we reached the top. Clearly this child has his father's need for speed. I was beginning to think that I was holding him back.
Lately, Hayden has been growing in leaps and bounds developmentally. Every time he tries to master a new skill (potty training, sleeping in a big boy bed), he does it almost flawlessly and with much less prodding than I anticipated. Keeping his advancements in mind, I decided to loosen the baby reigns a bit. Hayden had been pushing to ride the "dragon" - a mini coaster built just for kids under 6. Given that I couldn't ride with him, I'd written it off. But in an effort to keep from holding my son back from experiencing life, I relented.
Hayden JUST graced the minimum height restriction. As I sat him in the seat, he grinned back at me, gripping the safety bar for dear life. I bit my lip and reminded him to hold on tight and not stand up. Then I pointed to where I'd be standing and left my baby in the hands of the carnies.
As the ride started with a jolt, Hayden's face just crumpled. By the time he came around the first corner, he was wailing. Three times I had to watch my son's panic stricken face rumble past me. By the time the ride slowed to a stop, I was crying almost as hard as he was. I raced to pull him from the seat of terror and he clung to me almost as hard as I gripped him.
We sat on a nearby bench, both of us in tears. Hayden turned to me and sobbed "Too fast mummy. Dragon was too fast for me!" I hugged him harder and said I was sorry about a dozen times. My mind beating itself up over letting my toddler get on a scary carnie ride by himself. A few long minutes later, with an offer of a hamburger, his traumatic experience was forgotten and the tears dried.
It was the first time I gave in to myself to let Hayden do something I felt was too much for him. The first time I pushed my little bird out of the safety of my nest. He wasn't hurt, wasn't scarred for life (I hope), and yet I beat myself up over it all night. I half expected him to wake up with nightmares of the terrible dragon that night. But he didn't.
It was a learning experience for us both. For me, I learned that Hayden's first times are not always going to be magical moments and I should expect some bumps, bruises and tears. For Hayden, he learned that sometimes mummy says no for a reason and, hopefully, that there are some things better left to the big kids.
Who knew a carnival would hold such important life lessons.