As I have mentioned before, a million years ago, I worked at Walt Disney World. One of the more fun jobs I had working there was as a youth education facilitator. This meant that I would take small groups of kids through the parks with specific pedagogical goals. My two favorite programs to facilitate were the two I taught at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios (which wasn’t called that back then, but I digress)…one was on the history of animation, from cave paintings to digital animation. The other was about filmmaking.
However, I taught another program, one at the Magic Kingdom, which was totally out of my comfort zone, but which was always, always, always, well received. It was the program about roller coaster physics.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The reason everybody loved this program best was that we got to ride a little roller coaster. But we didn’t just ride the roller coaster. We did experiments on the roller coaster. We had all kinds of instruments, the names of which escape me now. But the tool everyone was most excited about was the ever-so-technical styrofoam cup full of water.
The goal was to keep as much of the water as possible in the cup, by adjusting for the speed, inertia, gravity, momentum and direction. I got pretty good at it, myself.
Needless to say, not everyone was very good at this and most kids ended up soaked by the end of the attraction.
Re-emergence of Roller Coaster Physics
Over the years, I more or less forgot about roller coasters. My indulgent husband truly does not enjoy them–he is not a “sensation” kind of person. On the other hand, together, we regularly bemoan our family life as being a kind of roller coaster.
Educating a child feels like that slow, slow, slow uphill climb. If you are sitting in the front seat of the coaster (which, as parents, I should hope we are,) even as you arrive at the top of the hill, it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. That is, until the back of the train (that would be the kids in my illustration) gets to the top of the track, at which point it feels like an out-of-control free fall. Then the twist. Then the turn. Then the dark tunnel. Then the sudden squeaking braking. The not-quite-whiplash before you start up another hill.
This is, unfortunately, how I live my parenting life. And because I like to live dangerously, I am generally doing it with a scalding-hot cup of coffee in hand. Well, it’s hot when we start out. By the time the sensations are over and I can finally get it to my lips, my coffee is often very very cold.
I don’t know if every parent experiences this roller coaster. I am guessing that most parents have experienced it a few times. It’s inevitable when dealing with irrational little creatures who have a ton of living to learn. Depending on the amount of time a parent actually spends with their children on a daily basis, these roller coasters can be more or less frequent.
Depending on how “normal” a child is the roller coasters can be more or less frequent. (I wouldn’t know about the “less frequent” side of this equation, given that my children are simply not normal in the normal sense of normal. They are “more frequent” roller coaster kind of children.)
Depending on how “even-keeled” a parent is, the roller coasters can be more or less frequent. (I wouldn’t know about the “less frequent” side of this equation either, given that I am simply not even-keeled in the normal sense of even-keeled. I am a “more frequent” roller coaster kind of parent.)
This kind of roller coaster isn’t fun. This kind of roller coaster leads to misunderstandings, blow-ups, tantrums, apologizing, grandstanding, scolding, feeling guilty, trying to make-up, too much sweetness, and an exhausted everybody.
I have come to the conclusion that given who I am and who my children are, we are in for another 12-15 years of roller-coastering.
Can we get off this thing?
At least I am lucid about this. I am as much of the problem as my scalawags are.
In my Ideal Life, however, I do not dread the future. In my Ideal Life, I accept my children for who they are. In my Ideal Life, I do not take my children’s behavior personally. In my Ideal Life, I am an easy person for my children to respect.
There is one virtue that I see as essential to surviving the next 12-15 years. One virtue which people for thousands of years people have been seeking, albeit under different names.
There is one virtue I need to learn, or these daily–sometimes multiple times a day–roller coaster rides are going to become the Euthanasia Coaster.
That virtue is peace. Also known as serenity. Also known as zen.
This week, we are going to look at the virtue of peace. What it means, what it doesn’t mean. What it looks like when we have it and what the supervillain version of peace could be.
I may not have all the solutions to get peace, but I have a few ideas. Right now, I need peace. So it seems like a good thing to study.
Go in peace.