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Rollercoaster


A mother and daughter facing off with the words My daughter is nothing like me.

“One day you’ll have a child just like you and then you’ll understand.”


This rings true for millions of parents across the globe. They watch their little carbon copies navigate the world in the exact same way they had. I was threatened, or perhaps promised, this same experience growing up.


My mom, like Nostradamus, promised me a glimpse of my future when I became a parent. She foretold the same struggles she encountered trying to shape and mold me into a functioning and stable adult. I was ready. I knew the shenanigans I could get up to. And then came my eldest daughter who looked at both my and my forlorn mother’s expectations and opted out of fulfilling that destiny.

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My eldest daughter wanted to love rollercoasters. I did. Her Mimi, my mom, did. So of course she would love them too. There is something entrancing about rollercoasters—their geometry of supports reaching and arching and slicing through space. Even the squeal and whine of wood and steel protesting as the cars shuttle over the braces does something to my soul.


My burgeoning mini-me and I watched videos of rollercoasters on YouTube and every documentary we could find on theme parks together. “Momma, I wanna go on a wolla coastuh! It's all I want to do!” So when the opportunity presented itself to go to Disney World, we leaped on it. My daughter had just turned five and the timing was perfect.


On our first day in the parks, we headed straight for that beautiful Big Thunder Mountain. That was going to be a perfect first rollercoaster for a young rollercoaster enthusiast. Tall for her age, she cleared the height requirement easily. We joined the queue and enjoyed the anticipation as we waited for our turn.


The thing about rollercoaster videos is they cannot capture all the sensations of a rollercoaster. What you watch is an echo; a ghost of all the sights, sounds, and vibrations. My daughter heard the screams of the riders already reveling in their adrenaline rush and her whole body shifted to a tense, wound-up ball of anxiety.


We scurried away before she got too anxious and decided we would try a few smaller rides. Work our way up to it.

We did the teacups.

She wasn’t ready for the rollercoaster.

We did the big-eared elephants.

But she wasn’t ready for the rollercoaster.

I’d almost resigned myself to my daughter just not being ready when we happened upon a tiny little mine train coaster. It was small but mighty enough.


Confidently, my daughter said, “I wanna go on that one!”


Finally.


We’d get on this one, she’d get that taste of sweet, sweet rollercoastering and we’d be off to the bigger, badder, faster, cooler ones. As the chain clattered and squealed I looked down to share a sweet moment with my daughter and was greeted by a freshly-five-year-old face painted with a look of sheer terror. This child was white-knuckling it for a six-inch rollercoaster.


We got to the top of the hill and it gently dipped, tossing us into a gentle curve before the “big” drop. My daughter didn’t scream or cry. I wish she would have. Instead, she dissociated entirely. She rode the whole ride totally stoic. Thirty-seven interminable seconds later as we coasted back into the station, she looked at me and said “I did NOT like that.”

Okay, well she didn’t completely breakdown. That was something.


But it was then I knew.

My daughter wasn’t just too young for rollercoasters.

She wasn’t the rollercoaster type.

I was. Her Mimi, my mom, was.


She was not a carbon copy and in that moment I knew the differences were not done revealing themselves to us. My daughter was fundamentally, spiritually, and functionally my equal and exact opposite. In fact, we would spend the next decade on a rollercoaster of a completely different type. One whose framework was built from deconstructing generational trauma.

 

It was a struggle finding common ground. Much like it had been with my own watery mother and oily self. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I only had that realization in hindsight. How the hell do you raise a kid with whom you have nothing in common? She doesn’t even like rollercoasters!


The tracks my daughter and I crafted together were painstakingly forged of two distinctly different communication styles. She was athletic. I was not. I was artistic. She was not. I enjoyed reading, 2000s punk rock, and spicy foods. She preferred watching other kids play video games, anything BUT 2000s punk rock, and food with the flavor profile of cardboard.


If there was to be common ground between my progeny and me, it would be on land we built ourselves. When I shifted to a more responsive style of parenting, we started seeing the edge of the newly constructed isthmus peaking out of the sea of differences between us. Instead of trying to get her to conform to my expectations, I viewed her as her own person.


 
 

She was not like me but that was okay. The world already had a me. What it needed was a her. What this meant for me was less leading and more listening. I needed to accept that as a parent, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Whether you’re raising a child just like you or you’ve birthed a polar opposite, there is no handbook for parenting. None of us know what we are doing.


There are no parenting experts that can give you the width and breadth of what it is to be a parent to your specific child. There are people with good ideas that may or may not work for you. Even humans raising children “just like them” have to leave room for those divergences, those differences. Rather than viewing our kids as extensions of ourselves, our pathways to immortality, we have to see them as their own person, similar perhaps but still different.


And if you, like me, grew up being told you'll have a kid just like you, and then you have the audacity to not do that at all, it's jarring. There's no reference guide of your own childhood to parse through, no resource of the past. It's all new and often confusing.


Over time and partly in response to accepting she could and should be her own person, we widened that little isthmus of common ground. Our tastes differ and our personalities are often oil and water, but that doesn’t mean we cannot coexist and even learn from each other. I am the mother she needs and she is the kid I’m capable of preparing for the world.


We shared cooking, a shared style of music eventually evolved (hello, pop-folk!), and we discovered we both harbored a deep, innate ability to remember the finest minutiae of fandom trivia.


Our rollercoaster is a lot less rolling and has settled into more of a coast now. A bit of jostle, a tiny little breath stealing dip every once in a while but our mother-daughter rollercoaster relationship eventually evened itself out into more of a “It’s a Small World” type ride than Big Thunder Mountain. And honestly, I prefer it this way.

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