One of my fondest memories as an adult was a trip my family took to Disneyland about 11 years ago. I was dating my husband at the time; none of us (siblings) were married or had kids yet. Life was carefree and easygoing. My mom loved going to amusement parks, especially Disneyland and my parents thought it would be fun to go together as a family. We spent the day laughing, cracking jokes, taking funny pictures and just having a great time. There are a few moments, in particular, of that day that really stand out in my mind. One memory, which I will always cherish, was at the end of our day. It was probably close to 11:00 at night, and the crowd was thinning out. The roller coasters had no line and we were determined to walk on as many as we could before we left the park that night. I will never forget my dad’s excitement as we ran through the empty line of Space Mountain, hopping over bars and rushing to get on that coaster. I felt like we were all big kids. We had no worries. What a fun day we had.
I think back on that memory with great fondness; it is one that I will always hold dear in my heart. But with it also comes a certain sense of melancholy. Life will never be like that again. We will never again have those moments have as a family.
For months, mom has been wanting to go to “that place that we went to so many years ago with Jeff and Starla and it has that really big thing that goes up high….” After delving a little deeper, we discovered that mom was referring to Knott’s Berry Farm-an amusement park here in Southern California. At the beginning of the year, my siblings and I all bought season passes to Knott’s. Dad had already taken mom to Disneyland a few months ago and it wasn’t a grand adventure; he really didn’t want to take her Knott’s Berry Farm. So he tried to talk us into taking her without him. As it happens, we had been planning a “family day” at Knott’s for the day after Halloween, since my brother would be in town. I had this bright idea that it would be fun to have the entire family together for a day. But…my dad was less than enthusiastic about my plan. In fact, he wasn’t planning on coming at all. For an entire month, I tried to convince my dad to come along. I promised him we would all help with mom and that he would have fun spending time with his kids and grandkids, just like the good ol’ days. He was resistant, up until the morning we were planning to go. At last minute, he decided he would bring mom along with us and fulfill her wish, as well as mine.
I knew it was going to be a lot of work with mom. I know all too well how she is and how she’d behave. I was under no false illusion that we would have a perfectly magical day, as we had so many years before. But there’s a part of me that is still clinging to the idea of making as many meaningful memories with mom (as a family) that we can and I sense that time is running out. If mom wanted to go to Knott’s, then, in my idealistic mind, it would be perfect for us to all go together.
I could sit here and write to you about everything that went wrong throughout the day. I could tell you that my mom was very self-centered, that she was on her own agenda, that she waited impatiently for the kids to get through their rides so that we could follow her around the park to find what she was looking for. I could tell you that, despite our walking around the entire park, mom never did find what she was looking for (her memory doesn’t allow her to recognize the very things that were before her that she was so frantically searching for). I could tell you about how we finally found the roller coaster she wanted to ride (her favorite from times past) and how, at the front of the line, my sister and I had to physically restrain her from pushing through the group ahead of us to get on the coaster. I could tell you how she became so irate at our holding her back that she was yelling and smacking me and broke my necklace in the process of trying to get free. I could tell you about our fruitless efforts to get mom on rides that we knew she once loved, her refusal to eat her lunch, the tantrums and the exhaustion of keeping her where we wanted to go.
I could tell you all of those things and more. I had originally intended on sharing those things in great detail. Instead, I want to focus on the highlights of the days; the memories that will keep us smiling long after mom is gone when we look back at this family trip together.
Highlight #1: Riding Ghostrider (mom’s favorite roller coaster)
After finding the ride and convincing mom that this was the roller coaster she was searching for, and after calming down from my anxiety at the tantrum she threw at the front of the line, this was my best memory of the day. In those few moments before the ride started, I started to fear that mom might freak out once it got going. It’s a pretty steep ride, and it goes really fast. However, when I looked over at mom, all fears began to fade away. As the ride started it’s uphill ascent, I looked over at mom to see an excitement in her eyes and a grin at the corners of her mouth. She looked like an eager child, going on her very first roller coaster and trying to hold back her excitement.
“Are you excited mom?” I asked her, matching her grin.
Mom wordlessly answered me with an expanding grin and sparkle in her eye. As we went down that first hill, mom couldn’t hold back any longer and the smile spread across her entire face, showing teeth and all! At one point, she put her head down, still smiling, and shut her eyes. And then something amazing happened. There was a tiny moment, which I will forever remember, when I glanced over at my mom and I swear I was looking at the “old mom”; the mom who loved roller coasters and knew how to let loose and have a fun time. To have that moment for even one small second made the entire day worth it to me.
Highlight #2: Moments like these
At one point, mom became anxious and was practically running ahead of us all to find…whatever it was she was looking for. I suggested to my nephew, Jeremy, to go ahead and walk with grandma. It was such a touching sight to see that I had to take a picture.
It took almost all day for dad to finally let loose and have fun. He sat off most rides with mom (despite our efforts to get him to ride while we took a turn with mom). But at the end of the day, he couldn’t refuse Big Foot Rapids, which is my favorite ride. I got completely soaked and dad laughed his head off so it was totally worth it.
Mom was pretty resistant about going on The Log Ride, even though it used to be another favorite. She was worried about getting wet. My sister and I laughed as we reminisced about how it used to be mom coaxing her into riding the log; now the roles have reversed.
Highlight #3: The Bumper Cars
Mom kept talking about those “things that go and go like this, bump into each other…” Bumper Cars. Telling her that it was called Bumper Cars held no meaning for her. We had to visually show her. She peered over at the cars and her memory was sparked. I thought she’d love to live out her dream of driving again, but she was a little apprehensive of how to “work” them. She seemed content to ride alongside dad in the car.
As we left the park that day, a sentimental feeling settled over me as it really hit that was likely our last trip all together to an amusement park, as an entire family. As our challenges grow with mom, so do our opportunities of getting out and taking trips. I wanted to preserve this memory forever and take a group picture, but mom was very anxious to leave. My mind took me back to that happy, carefree memory of going to Disneyland years ago (and the countless other happy amusement park trips). And then it hit me why it was so hard for dad to come that day. Though it is physically exhausting to venture out with mom, the overwhelming emotions that come with it are far more difficult; it is looking back on the good times that have past and facing the harsh realization that things will never be the same again; it is the missing and the longing for those times that hurts so much. The good days are gone. Yet, though they are gone, I know that someday I will look back on this day with some sort of fondness of the time we were able to spend together.