Among other things, we call Sophie, Danger Girl.
Danger Girl is an obscure reference to an adult animated series, Aeon Flux, which aired on MTV in the ‘90s. Aeon, the title character, is secret agent from an anarchist society, skilled in acrobatics, who seeks to infiltrate a neighboring police state. She risks life and limb, fearlessly flying over enemy lines, tumbling past automated weapons and slipping under wires. Sophie shares Aeon’s penchant for danger. She loves the sensation of her body hurling through space, whether it’s being tossed into the air by her father, propelled by a zip line, or whipped around by an amusement park ride.
She is a thrill seeker.
I am not. I am Gets-Nauseated-on-Merry-Go-Round Girl. Play-It-Safe Girl. Sees-Danger-Everywhere-and-Seeks-to-Avoid-It Girl. I pride myself on the fact that, using my uncanny ability to know which activities will lead certain death, I have often prevented catastrophes from coming to pass.
I am still waiting for that first, awful trip to the emergency room.
So, before we ventured out to The Land of Make Believe, an amusement park that features rides of questionable age, being operated by teenagers of questionable judgment, I set Sophie straight.
“These places terrify me, Soph. If you want to go on a scary ride you are going to have to take Grandma.” Though Grandma is no daredevil herself, she is significantly less wimpy than I. She is game to hop on child-size rollercoasters and have the contents of her stomach scrambled in spinning pods.
“Okay, fine.” Sophie told me, the adrenaline already coursing though her veins at the mere prospect of going on such rides.
The first ride we encountered was the “Rockin’ Tug.” It mimicked a ship out at sea, wildly tossed in a storm. The ride immediately called to mind memories of being on whaling watching boat Atlantic Ocean as a teen, the duration of which I spent retching while my mother delightedly pointed out breeching whales.
No way was I getting on that thing. Even my mother looked at it warily.
“It’s okay,” Sophie told us. “I’ll go by myself.”
“Umm…really Soph?” It was the first time she would be on a ride of this magnitude, and though I saw other children her age going on it, they were each accompanied by an adult.
“We can find different ride. One that grandma will go on with you.”
“No, I want to go on this one, Mom. I’ll be totally fine,” she said with the inflection of a girl ten years older.
I was taken aback by her utter lack of fear. Not just to go on the ride, but to go by herself. To have this completely new experience alone. Where was my fear gene, my cautious chromosomes? Apparently, her egg had been devoid of them.
I assented. It was a weekday in the middle of heat wave. There were few people in the park, and even fewer on the land rides, everyone preferring to be on the waterpark side. Sophie got on with a few other families. Mom and I retreated to the shade under a nearby tree and watched.
Pure elation was etched on Sophie’s face. Her dimples deeper than ever, her eyes wide with delight. As soon as it was over she came running towards us. “Can I do it again? Can I do it again?”
We watched as she was tossed a second time. And a third. And a fourth. Until finally we said, “Lets try something else.”
“Okay!” Sophie exclaimed and went running towards “Free Fallin’.” This ride, raised a line of seats up a pole and then suddenly dropped them straight down, like an elevator cut free from its cables. Ever since I was in an elevator in a radio tower in Latvia that bounced, I am Prefer-to-Take-the-Stairs Girl. I wasn’t getting on this one either.
Neither was Grandma.
“That’s okay! I’ll do it myself!” Sophie exclaimed, emboldened by her earlier experience on the Rockin’ Tug. Echoing the phrased she used repeatedly as a toddler whenever I tried to help or intervene in her activities.
And so she did. Her expression alternating between glee (as she went up) and horror (as she was dropped down).
“Again! Again! Again!” she begged as she ran to beat out several teenagers headed for the back of the line.
Next she led us over to the Wishing Wheel. The park’s “newest” ride. It was a Ferris Wheel. I studied it. From the ground, it looked like it rotated at a leisurely pace. I imagined the lovely view of the valley it would offer from it’s peak. Was I really going to beg off of every single ride? If my five year old could do this, couldn’t I?
“Okay, Soph, I’ll go on this one with you.”
Two boys of about nine were ahead of us. They got on to the first available gondola. We boarded the next. And so it went—people got off and on, off and on, and we weren’t so much riding the wheel as rotating a few feet and then getting stuck at various points. One of the two boys that got on before us cried out to the ride’s operator, “let me off of this thing!” They were higher than we were. I took this to be a bad omen. We circled higher, moving backwards, until we froze at the highest point on the wheel while they let the boys off. Sophie leaned forward to look down at the world below and the gondola lurched forward with her.
I was instantly gripped with fear. I sucked in my breath and by heart began to pound. You are not having a heart attack. I reassured myself. Don’t panic. Get a hold of yourself.
“Sophie, could you please not do that,” I said, in a strained voice. “It’s really scaring me.”
Sophie leaned back into her seat and placed her little hand on top of mine. “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m right here. Nothing is going to happen to you.”
Her words, her little hand were so deeply soothing. I felt myself relax. The wheel started up again, and then started to move continuously. Sophie withdrew her hand.
“Soph, could you put your hand back on mine. It really helped me.”
Danger Girl smiled at me, covered my hand with hers again, and together, we enjoyed the ride.