Emotional rollercoaster

We’ve just returned from a four day trip as a family to Disneyland Paris. In all honesty, I can’t decide if I had the time of my life or if I’m suffering from PTSD. My current mental state could be described as dazed and disorientated, leading me to wonder if I sustained some form of brain injury while on a rollercoaster. The only clear thought I’ve had today was my assent to my husband’s suggestion that we should order in Mr Pizza for lunch.

It all started so promisingly. We set off very early in the morning, anticipating the adventures to come. Upon arrival, we strode expectantly towards the main park, just in time to catch a Disney characters parade. Perhaps I was feeling a little emotional due to tiredness after our early start, but my heart swelled and tears pricked my eyes. The children were suitably excited. This was what it was all about!

Within the first two days we packed in a phenomenal amount. I accompanied my 11 year old on his – and my – first ever rollercoaster ride. How scary could it be if you only need to be 140 cm tall to ride? I soon found out. I exited trembling and convinced I’d sustained whiplash. Naturally, he was grinning from ear to ear.

It soon became clear that I’ve produced pint-sized thrill seekers. Each new ride brought unparalleled glee to them and fresh horror to me. One go on the Rock n Roller (featuring Aerosmith) was enough to render me traumatised and hoarse from screaming futilely to make it all go away. Hyperspace Mountain made me hyperventilate and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror did nothing to cure my fear of heights. I drew comfort from the resultant candid mid-ride photographs evidencing my fear. I had to admit that each new hilarious snap, recording my involuntary facial contortions made every terrifying experience almost worthwhile.

Crush’s Coaster is based on Finding Nemo. Foolishly I volunteered to take the children on this one alone to give Daddy a break, assuming it would be relatively sedate given the theme. I was soon proved wrong as we were propelled dizzyingly through an oceanic vortex and spat out violently into daylight. How fortunate I feel to have this moment recorded for posterity: as my sister remarked, I appeared to be imitating Edvard Munch’s The Scream, while the 9 year old munchkin sitting beside me appeared to be beaming with pleasure at my extreme discomfort.

I had also felt quite smug at my ability to keep my progeny watered and fed appropriately, concerned as I was by overindulgence in sugar. I felt sorry for the bickering families, pitied the defeated-looking parents and wondered how it was possible that any child could be howling with rage in the magic kingdom. By the third day our parental strategy jackknifed towards shovelling sugary fizzy drinks, slushies and ice cream down our children’s necks at every available opportunity in a vain attempt to avert tiredness and tantrums. Afternoon beer-drinking on our part became a viable option in order to ensure emotional survival until bedtime.

I reached saturation point at this stage. I resolutely refused to embark on the RC Racer with my family (a vertiginous arc which whizzed its occupants back and forth in the style of a high-speed, over-sized Hot Wheels car). Even looking at it made me feel physically sick. As I waited for my family to emerge, I overheard another mother waiting at the exit comment to her daughter that “it looks like Daddy’s more scared than Harriet”. Harriet’s Dad duly wobbled out, visibly shaken and looking decidedly queasy, barely capable of walking or even a weak smile. Harriet on the other hand was clearly delighted with herself. Having survived this adrenaline rush, my own children demanded another go in the Twilight Zone. Incapable of subjecting myself to further emotional injury, I ambled off to the pleasingly calm Ratatouille attraction. The irony of preferring a ride featuring rats (another of my fears) did not escape me, but briefly alone in the dark with my 3D glasses, I was perfectly happy.

By the last day I felt every sympathy with the dejected and weary specimens I’d encountered on our first day. High-octane excitement is unsustainable in the long-term and you know you’re fighting a losing battle when your oldest child deems the end of the day spectacular to be “stupid and lame”. It was time to go home.

I’m not sure how long it will take for me to recover from our Disney adventure. My brain is in a state of high-alert, so much so that I wondered out loud to my husband at the airport if he thought it was possible that the pilot of our scheduled flight home might attempt a 360 loop such as we’d experienced on the Rock n Roller. The sound of Steven Tyler’s manic cackle which prefaces this ride will haunt me for some time to come.

Of course this was an experience none of us will forget – even if some of it will be more enjoyable in memory form. Visiting Disneyland with one’s children is intense and relentlessly hard work, interspersed with feelings of utter doom and unexpected moments of pure, unalloyed joy – much like parenting itself. The only advice I am able to offer on both counts is this: buckle up, brace yourself – and try to enjoy the ride.

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