At the local park where I take my four-year old son, Eddie, there is a swing made out of a tire. It hangs from the swing set by three thick chains, but instead of moving back and forth like a regular swing, it rotates, like a top or a carnival ride.
We were meeting two of my son’s friends at the park, and as soon as we arrived, my son ran over to the tire swing. He was soon joined by his friend, Peter. As the two of them climbed on, a third boy walked over whom none of us knew.
He didn’t answer but started to climb up on the tire. Once he was seated, I began to spin the tire around.
“Last time I was here, I got sick on this swing,” he said. He was a little older than my son and his friend, old enough to complain about maladies.
“Oh,” I said, trying to slow the ride down a bit, lest the boy get sick again. I didn’t want him throwing up on my watch, particularly with his mother seated nearby.
“You know you can spin this one around AND push it back and forth at the same time,” the boy said, speaking with the authority of someone who wants to overcome frailty.
I continued to spin the swing around and around until I suddenly felt resistance. I looked at the ground and saw the boy who had gotten sick had put his feet down to stop the ride. He quickly began to climb off.
“You okay?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. He headed back to his mother.
Soon, the third boy we were supposed to meet at the park, Jack, approached the swing.
“You want a ride?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said and started to walk away but then changed his mind. He came back and climbed up on the tire. I began to spin the swing around and around, but after a few turns, I again felt resistance. I looked down and saw Jack’s feet on the ground. He started to climb off before the tire had stopped spinning. He looked pale.
“I want. I want,” said Jack’s younger brother, Cade, who is always standing nearby wanting to do what the older boys are doing. But after a few revolutions, even Cade, who will throw his body onto anything without even putting his hands down, wanted to get off the swing.
“Down,” he said.
I helped him off.
Now it was just my son, Eddie, and his friend, Peter, left on the tire. “Spin it fast, mommy,” Eddie said.
I spun the tire around and around.
“Faster!” Eddie said.
As the tire spun faster and faster, I watched Eddie and Peter lean backward and laugh with glee, their mouths wide open like fruit slices. I was happy to see my son smiling, but I also felt proud, the pride of a mother whose son has achieved something. In this case: the bravery to spin. I’ve always known the world was divided into those who can tolerate fast, scary rides and those who can’t, and I was proud my son was among the former. There’s a certain amount of courage afforded to those who can go on scary rides, and a cowardice associated with those who don’t. My son made me feel like our family has balls, like we were bad ass. I felt courageous, by proxy. And it felt good because me, I’m mostly yellow. I remember going to an amusement park in eighth grade with my then boyfriend, and as we went around and around on a ride called the Paratrooper, I started to feel queasy. It’s not a fast ride, but it has just enough up and down and round and round to shake things up in your stomach. By the fourth or fifth revolution, I threw up all over my shoes and that of my boyfriend, and I’ve been skittish about scary rides ever since.
I continued to spin my son and his friend faster and faster, but I suddenly feared that going too much in the same direction would make them sick. I let the swing slow down enough to stop it. I then gave it a big push in the opposite direction. I continued to push it around and around, faster and faster, and as I pushed, I could see Peter’s face begin to smile again. But this time, my son, Eddie, didn’t look so good. I stopped pushing and let the ride slow down and as it did, I could see my son’s face growing pale. Soon his feet were on the ground, and he was trying to climb down before the swing had even stopped.
“One second, one second,” I said trying to stop the tire before he fell to the ground.
“I feel sick,” he said and stumbled over to a bench. He suddenly belched. “I just threw up,” he said, though I didn’t see any signs of it.
“Just relax. I’ll get you some water,” I said.
As I walked over to our cooler, I felt a tinge of disappointment knowing that my time among the brave and the courageous, however brief, was now over.