Irrational fears overcome in plunge through Dragon’s Den

by Brian Clarey

Parenthood has taken a lot away from my wife and me.

We were once free-spirited, impulsive and fun-loving individuals who took life as it came. Spontaneous trips to Vegas, impromptu shopping sprees and five-day weekends were all parts of our milieu in those days before we reproduced, and we once answered life’s little disturbances with casual shoulder shrugs and, “Hey, watcha gonna do?”

Now, of course, with three young ones, we are ogres. “Stop hitting your brother.” “Give that back to her.” “Do not touch that.”

We mete out household justice like dictators, which I guess, in a way, we are.

And the kids, though I’m sure they love us, are starting to regard us in much the same way that my wife and I regard Bush and Cheney – as malevolent authority figures intent on destroying their way of life.

But there are moments, fewer of them every year, when the kids still look at us as if we were the greatest, most amazing humans on the planet.

It happened a couple years ago the first time I asked my oldest son to pull my finger. It was shock and awe.

“How did you do that?” he asked in complete and total wonderment. “Do it again!”

It was like that last weekend for a whole day when we brought the kids, their friends and a couple of parents out to Wet ‘N Wild Emerald Pointe for a belated birthday celebration.

We generally make one trip a year out to the facility, and this year’s was the first where my oldest was tall enough to go on all the rides. And it should be noted that my firstborn son is not what you’d call a “thrill-seeker.” He likes his video games and his Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and he’s always preferred books to toys (That’s my boy!). But there have been many, many instances in his short life when we’ve had to talk him down from the top of a very high playground slide, ask the operators to stop an amusement park ride or hold his hand when we get within a few feet of the shoreline. It happened just last summer at Emerald Pointe: After he and I waited half an hour for a fairly tame water slide, we got to the top of the tower and he took one look at the rushing water, heard the screams of those who went before him and gripped my hand like it was the only thing keeping him connected to the earth.

“You want to go back down?” I asked him.

He nodded mutely.

So we made our way against the flow of the line, excusing ourselves past wet bodies and smirking teenagers (punks) and went back to more tame environs.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we had just taken a walk of shame.

This year, I pledged, things would be different.

We started looking at the pamphlet weeks ago. I pointed out some of the various attractions, the pools and slides and fountains. I asked him what turned him on the most.

“The Dragon’s Den! The Dragon’s Den!”

The desire to ride this one, I’m sure, stemmed more from his Yu-Gi-Oh addiction than a lust for adrenaline – there’s a dragon involved, you see. Dragons are cool.

So with a few of his friends we went and stood in line, holding red two-seater inflatable rafts, through the rope corrals and up the stairs until the kid could get a look at what the ride actually entailed.

I should say that the Dragon’s Den is not for beginners. It starts with a sharp dropoff down a cylindrical tube, then the raft and its riders are released into a large bowl where they fly around the track and ride up the sides and then drop through a small chute to the watery end terminal.

And, I should say, there is a big, menacing dragon in the center of the bowl shooting water through his nostrils.

As we inched forward I sensed some trepidation in my young charge. When we neared the final platform he looked up to me, helpless and wide-eyed, shaking just a little.

“I don’t want to do it,” he said quietly, lest his friends hear him.

I considered this a moment. Then I crouched down and spoke in a soft voice.

“Buddy,” I said. “Trust me: You can do this. You want to do this. You’ve been talking about it for weeks. I’ll be with you; I’ll hold on to you; I won’t let you get hurt. You’re gonna love it. It’s a little scary, but you can scream as loud as you want

“Besides,” I continued, “if you don’t do it you’ll be thinking about it for a long time.”

He considered this a moment. Then he smiled.


God, I love that kid.

So we got in the raft and I hooked my ankles around him. We shot the chute and skimmed around the bowl, and we screamed the whole time. At the bottom, wet and exhilarated, my firstborn son jumped from the raft and clamped a hug on me worth more than $1 million. And the look in his eyes… well, I couldn’t put a price on that.

It was the look in his eyes, I think, that inspired me to make the plunge on the Daredevil Drop, a 76-foot plummet so steep that my body barely touched the slide as I screamed (yeah, I screamed) my way down.

The way he looked at me after that made the “pull my finger” bit pale in comparison.

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