Far from wanting my children to grow up like mini-me, I rejoice the most in the ways they’re not like me. One thing I admire about them is their physical courage. Girlchild learned to ride a horse in a fraction of the time it took me, and she took to downhill skiing immediately. Both of them love scary rides.
I am an abject coward, never more so than at a fun fair like the Royal Show. The ferris wheel, to me, is a white-knuckle ride. I’ve been on the Scenic Railway and the Big Dipper at Luna park, once each, so I could say I’d done it, and I fully expected to die the whole way. But Boychild and Girlchild love those really big rides, the ones the size of giant cranes or tall buildings which roar and scissor their way about like giant enraged robots, with human bodies as soft and vulnerable as shellfish in their steel-and-vinyl padded grip.
“That one!” says Boychild, pointing to the Hangover, a leviathan with two long blade-like structures which scream overhead with its seats, or cages, upside down at the dizzy height of the arc. He’s already been on the Hard Rock, a huge swinging claw which rotates as it swings hundreds of metres through the air.
“Are you sure about that love?” asks the Carnie at the ticket window. “Just that a lot of them ask to get off once they’re up there, and then they can’t get a refund,” she tells me apologetically. “That’ll be OK,” I reply, and we understand that I’m saying I won’t ask for a refund.
As the riders pack into the right-side-up contraption I notice he’s right at the front. The great swinging blades have seats in them one behind the other, but Boychild’s got the first. I would really rather he’d been sitting with people in front of him. I can’t imagine how scary it’s going to be. A tough, tattooed Carnie snaps the padded seat cover shut. I can’t help thinking that my child’s life is in the hands of this complete stranger. What if he didn’t snap it shut completely?
Yes, he’ll be OK, but I am not OK. As the giant machine starts to warm up I find myself turning to look at the sideshows, to grope for a drink of water, to do anything but watch. Then I turn around for a quick look.
The machine is high, so high and so fast. The blade thing screams around and then hangs in mid-air, the people upside down and screaming. I can see boychild in his red T shirt and white volleys in the front seat, so far away up in the sky. I’m imagining that he must be beside himself with fear, regretting getting on the thing. I gear up to comfort a traumatised, sobbing child. My stomach clutches.
A mere speck in the sky, I can just see him. Quickly, before the machine gathers momentum and comes screaming down, he sees me, sticks one hand up, and gives me a little grin and a wave.