Monday, October 28, 2013

Mason Thomas Is The Bravest Boy I Know

It's 1997 and I'm pregnant with a baby girl.  Well, fine, I was pregnant with Aidan but at the time I was 100% certain it was a baby girl.  I was a swimwear buyer and manager for Liquid Assets, a swimwear retailer that has since gone out of business, and I was at Stratford Square mall scouting a new location for a store.  I was walking along the second floor balcony; it has a glass wall all the way around it, when.....BAM, I became afraid of heights.  It had never been a problem before that moment, it has remained a problem ever since that moment.  I'm fine in buildings, but not in places where I could accidentally die.

I had never been a huge danger junkie but I had always been okay with amusement park rides and occasional haunted houses.  When Aidan (who was blissfully not a girl and is by far the easiest of my children to parent from birth and the only one who is NOT a girl) was four his Uncle Erin and Dan dragged me on the Rock n' Roller coaster at Disney.  That was the first time I realized I could leave my body at will.  And I did.  Six seconds into that ride I left my body and I hovered over myself watching the entire time.  I don't go out of my way to re-live experiences like that but I guess it's good to know how to react in a traumatic situation.

Fast forward through years of taking my kids on cave explorations where the stairs are steep and made of metal and have no stair backs and I always think I'm about to die and when I get out of the cave I have to find a quiet spot to hide and put my head between my knees and regroup because I never want my kids to know that I'm afraid of heights.

I'm going to switch tracks on you for a moment.  If you have kids, you know how you feel about them.  You know that you would willingly lay down your life to save them, that your one true job is to make sure that they grow up okay and that however they are screwed up it will all be your fault.  You hover between saving for college and saving for a therapist.  There are other kids that come into your life; some through your friends, some through your kids, every once in a while there are those that just creep in and are there to stay forever.  I am very blessed to have several of those kids in my life.  Chief among them are Mason and Logan.  In the simplest terms they are my old neighbors' kids except that isn't what they are at all.  Their parents started out as my neighbors in Batavia, what they are now feels much more like family.  In fact, I love their families too, and Cathi's mom is one of my favorite people on the planet.  I think I became friends with Cathi when she was pregnant with Mason and our kids have literally been friends since birth.  Until we moved last year every first those kids had was together with Mason  sandwiched between his two giant best friends, Grace and Olivia.  A couple of years later we added Logan and they've been inseparable.  And here is the thing; I love those boys.  I don't like them because they're my friends kids, I love them.  If you told me I wasn't going to get to watch every moment of their evolution into well-adjusted, romantic, house-cleaning, garden growing, funny, feminist, kind, handsome men who make their parents and their old neighbor proud I wouldn't even believe you.  I'd bet money that I will be dancing at their weddings and making baby blankets for their children; I am keeping them, forever.  I would happily throw myself in front of a train to save either of them, and if asked, I would keep them in the event that their parents were lost at sea (now if they go missing  suspicion will definitely be cast on me not to mention their Aunt Michelle would probably make me disappear to get her hands on them).

Every year since they were two we've gone to Swedish Days.  We started out on the itty bitty baby rides.  This summer was going to be the great equalizer.  Mason is still waaaay shorter than the girls but this summer they were all going to meet the minimum height requirement on all the rides at Swedish Days. Height has been an issue.  My girls can always go on rides that Mason can't because they are some sort of genetic anomaly or perhaps they are part Amazon, I'm not sure, I know they don't get their height from their parents.  So we're at our annual Swedish Days outing with my children and Cathi and her boys and Tricia and Boston.  Mason, Grace and Olivia are seven.  For the first hour or two they went on all the rides they wanted over and over. Then with forty-five minutes and one scary ride to go the workers changed shifts and decided that Mason was too short.  Which was total bullshit.  They had two measuring sticks on each ride, one up by the entrances which was professionally made and one down on the ground which was a piece of red duct tape stuck to a fence.  So with forty five minutes to go Mason is told he can't go on any of the big rides with his three best friends, rides he's been going on all damn day.  

It's important to note here that A) I'm still really afraid of heights and don't go on tall rides, and B) I have no problem saying "no" to my own kids, and C) I, apparently, have a problem saying "no" to Cathi's kids and perhaps a lack of common sense that I did not previously acknowledge as such.

I tell Cathi that Mason and I are going to find a ride to go on and we leave them.  We go from ride to ride; all of which he'd been on several times that day, only to be turned away every time.  There was one ride we hadn't tried.  The Zipper.  For the sake of the story, my girls weigh nearly 70lbs; they are solid, I can barely pick them up.  I think Mason weighs about 45lbs; what he lacks in heft he more than makes up for in charm.  He looks up at me and says, "What about that one Kris?" and motions towards The Zipper.  I feel my insides curl into a small tight ball.  "Mason, that one is really scary." I say using his past against him; there was a time that Mason was scared to try things the girls did with no problem.  Those times....they are over.  "I'm not scared, I'll go on it."  He says.  "Okay," I say, "but I'm sure they'll say 'no'.  Okay?  Be prepared for no."  He nods solemnly up at me and we get in the line.  My heart rate increases the closer we get to the front of the line.  The man checks Mason's height and opens the CAGE for us...because that's what it is.   My brain is screaming at the man....can't you see this child is too short, what is wrong with you????? The Zipper is a death cage that hurls you over and over while taking you up and is a nightmare for me to watch and I am stepping foot into it with a child that I love.  

My heart is in my throat and not because I'm worried for Mason.  That.....that will come when the ride starts moving and I become certain that I am about to be the instrument of Mason's death.  Four seconds into movement I realize I've made a grave error and we're both going to die.  Six seconds in Mason has the same realization and goes into panic mode.  I can't even pretend to know what I would have done with my own kids in the situation but I'm pretty sure I would have been scream-ier. There is a bar that comes down over your hips which means the bar only comes down as far as the biggest person.  I am substantially bigger than Mason so I'm going to guess there was a good six inches between his lap and the bar that was supposed to hold him in place.  On second eight (it's possible I was counting) he flew up and nearly out of the bar and I pinned him by the chest with my elbow to the back of the seat and just thought, if I let him go for even one second he is going to be killed.  Also on second 8 I slammed my head into the cage so hard I thought I was going to pass out, I feel certain that I maintained consciousness so that Mason wouldn't be flung to his death.  On second nine is when he closed his eyes and started screaming my name.  Which I could totally relate to because I wanted to scream his name too.  I had to pause on second ten when my $500 prescription sunglasses fell off of my head and bounced around the cage like popcorn.  On second eleven I said "Mason, I need you to open your eyes and look at me right now."  He said, "I can't Kris, I can't open my eyes.  Make it stop."  So second eleven is also where I became scarred for life, I had done this to him.

"Mason, I need you to look at me and I need you to bring your fingers back in here, I need you to take both of your arms and hold onto my arm as tight as you can."  Second twenty, my purse flies off my lap, and also flies around the cage like popcorn.  Popcorn that hurts as it repeatedly hits you and the the tiny person next to you in the face.  To his credit, he looked at me and he grabbed my arm and I'm pretty sure I still have marks.  I looked that kid right in the eyes and I said, "Mason, I promise you we are going to be okay.  I can't promise you you'll ever be able to go on a carnival ride again because I'm pretty sure this is going to have some lasting effects, but I can promise you that I'm going to keep you safe and that we are not going to die on this ride.  Not today.  Okay?  You keep looking at me and we are going to be okay."  And that kid...who used to be pretty scared of bounce houses, maintained eye contact with me for the entirety of that ride.  That ride was 72 hours long I swear to God, it was the longest ride I've been on in my life.  At a point I lost feeling in the elbow that had him pinned to the back of his seat.  And then suddenly we were on the top and we were still and I accidentally lied to him.

"Is it over Kris?"  He asked, both of us were visibly shaking.  "I think sooooooooooooo..." I said as the ride began again only backwards!  We were only at the half way mark.  It didn't get better.  We were tossed and slammed and flung around that cage like pin balls.  It was terrifying but more so because I willingly brought someone else's kid on the death ride.  

When we finally got off Mason looked up at me and said, "I want to find my Mom."  and I said "Mason, I can't look at your mom for a while, okay?"  He threw himself around my waist and we sat down right where we were standing in the blazing sun to regroup.  People had to wallk around us sitting in the middle of the asphalt.  He put his head on my shoulder and I put my head between my legs and I think we sat there for fifteen minutes.  I said, "Mason Thomas, you are seriously the bravest kid I've ever met."  It's true, I was horrified and I was sure Cathi was going to be mad at me.  Eventually he said, "Kris, can you look at my mom yet?"  and I told him, "I don't know Mason, but let's go find her."  So we got up on our shaky adrenaline legs and went and found his mom, by then he had regrouped completely, he didn't even cry, he just hugged her for a second.  I burst into tears when I saw her.  Seriously, I just had a complete breakdown.  She was absolutely gracious about it and totally calm, she ended up reassuring me.  On a personal note, she made me incredibly proud of her-let's say she was a little tightly wound when we met, possibly a smidge over protective and holy crap how she has flourished as a mom, her boys are incredibly blessed in both of their parents.  

I did not recover that day and honestly, when I think of it I'm sick to my stomach.  It is nearly November, it's taken me nearly five months just to screw up the courage to write about it.  Now that I think about it, maybe this will be part of the toast I give at Mason's wedding....if his therapist lets him invite me.


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