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As I write this, I just got back from a three-day spring break trip to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, a three-hour drive from my home in Durham, NC. My friend Dr. Liz and I piled our older kids (three second graders, my oldest son Asher, and her 8-year-old twin boys) into my minivan for a little getaway. My twins are three now, and while they are getting somewhat easier to deal with, I left them at home with Travis with no regrets. I’m still allergic to traveling with toddlers. Maybe we’ll bring them somewhere next year when they are 4! Asher had never been to a real theme park or ridden a roller coaster before, and this was truly the perfect age. All the boys were past the 48” height requirement for some real coasters but still young enough to enjoy some gentler rides aimed at smaller kids. At Busch Gardens, there are no Disney World-level logistical complexities that you need a travel agent for. The weather was mild, and the park was uncrowded on weekdays at the end of March. It was dreamy; there were no lines! The kids could just stay on the rides they really liked and enjoy them over and over because no one was waiting.
I myself hadn’t been to a real theme park or ridden on a roller coaster in probably 20 years. As a teen, I was a coaster daredevil, loving to hop on the scariest rides with loops and drops and high speeds at Six Flags over Georgia, the closest park to where I grew up. However, New York sophisticate Katherine had no interest in such philistine activities, so going to a theme park hadn’t crossed my radar in forever. I was not really sure what to expect from this trip or how my relationship to adrenaline and thrill-seeking had changed over the years or if I’d just find the whole thing unbearably corny.
Becoming a mother made me much more sensitive to violent movies and TV shows, along with depictions of hardship or cruelty. Whatever switch flipped in my brain that sensitized me to screen violence and sadness never flipped back. As we got ready for Busch Gardens, I wondered if I’d discover that I’d developed an aversion to real roller coasters after so many of the metaphorical ones through political turmoil, parenting, COVID, and parenting through COVID.
Turns out theme park rides are way more fun than the things that are happening in the world we call “roller coasters.” While I didn’t go on any of the biggest daredevil rides, I found it enjoyable and actually cathartic to spend 60-90 seconds strapped into a seat, zipping around a track screaming my lungs out. It was surprisingly fun to scream as loud as I wanted with no one giving me funny looks. If something was scary, I just closed my eyes and felt full confidence it would all be over quickly, and I’d be delivered safely to the exit. While I know accidents can happen on theme park rides, riding a roller coaster at a fixed site theme park is extremely safe, WAY safer than the car ride to get to the park.
Roller coasters are actually not a good metaphor for the adrenalizing turmoil many of us have dealt with over the years. Any way you slice it, the turbulence we face in real life isn’t fun. There’s no assurance it will be over quickly, or we’ll leave the experience unscathed. And life’s real rides are usually not by choice. The freefall feeling of panic that comes when you realize you are losing your childcare = not fun. The nauseating loops of political or police violence = not fun. The fearful anticipation of what will happen when you or loved ones get COVID = not fun. Staring into a black tunnel of wondering if your children will be shot at school = not fun. The pitch-black silence when you face that you can’t get the reproductive healthcare you need = not fun.
We live in a society with virtually no safety harnesses, no 90 minute daily mechanical inspections, no backup failsafes, and very, very few places where it’s socially acceptable to scream. I’m certainly no cheerleader for major corporations, but sadly I have more faith in SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Inc. to provide a safe environment than I do in our government. This visit allowed me to understand the appeal of theme parks for Americans in a new way. For a price, you can have entertainment for every age, a pedestrian-friendly environment with easy-to-read maps where children are cherished and never a burden. Your needs for strollers, bathrooms, nursing rooms, disability access and kid-friendly food options are constantly anticipated. And most importantly, you and your family can feel safe, something that feels increasingly precarious everywhere else. I’m pretty sure we are going back next year.
For this week’s members-only thread I’ll be asking, what’s something you dig now that you have kids? Membership supports this newsletter and makes my work possible. Become a member and get audio newsletters, members-only threads, virtual and IRL hangouts. It starts at $7/mo.
April Member Hangout: Adult Friendships
Tuesday, April 25th 1PM EST
In this month’s virtual member hangout, I want to talk about one of adulthood’s biggest puzzles: how do you make friends after the age of 25? The pandemic made making new friends even harder, even as many of us have gone through big transitions like moves to new cities, new careers and new children. Join me for an interactive discussion where I’ll be sharing ideas but also asking for YOU ALL to share what’s worked. We’ll also do some breakout rooms to give you all a chance to forge some virtual connections. It will be fun! This is one of the perks of membership. Become a member to join in on the fun.