Holding back the fear

Theme park rides as a metaphor for life? Absolutely. It’s all about controlling your fears.

Paultons Park (home to Peppa Pig World) has become the favoured meeting spot for us and some of our old university friends – three families with seven pre-teen/pre-school children between us. Over the past few years we’ve met up there most summers, and this weekend was our allotted 2015 date.

We can chart our history at Paultons Park by the increased freedom which the kids’ increasing height affords us in terms of who can go on which rides (un)accompanied by ‘a responsible adult’. (Which always amuses me. How can they tell who is a responsible adult? It’s a good job there’s no written test …)

So this year marked the first time that Kara has been taller than 0.9 metres, enabling her to do a much wider range of rides, and Isaac has exceeded the magical 1.3-metre mark, which means he can do most on his own. When you are a family with more children than adults, that makes a huge difference.

Throughout the day, it was noticeable how much more circumspect Isaac was about trying out some of the bigger rides – more so than he has been on previous visits. To his credit, with some gentle encouragement he swallowed his fears and, despite some initial uncertainty, gave them a go and enjoyed them.

But while seven-year-old Isaac successfully conquered his fears, three-year-old Kara was utterly fearless. She threw herself headlong into every ride she was allowed on with an enthusiasm and joy that would have put many adults to shame. Plunging into water on a log flume? Being thrown in all directions on a rollercoaster? Taking a seat in the stomach-churning back row of the pirate ship ride, which swings violently back and forth like a hyperactive pendulum? Yes, please. She would jump straight on, shriek with delight throughout the ride and then jump off and sprint full-tilt to get straight back in the queue.

Daddy and Kara log flume Paultons Park
Big drops? Getting drenched? Bring. It. On

Here’s the thing. At the age of three, Kara doesn’t yet know what fear is. The world around her represents one big adventure, and it’s that lack of fear that enables her to launch feet first – literally, in some cases – into most things she does without pausing to consider the implications of failure.

With Isaac, I reckon he reached a tipping point some time before his sixth birthday, when he started to become properly aware of the fact that sometimes actions can have serious and long-lasting consequences. He’s always been a sensitive lad but it was at that point when he started to fear even the mild peril in children’s films – he couldn’t watch the forest fire scenes at the end of the second Planes movie because he was utterly terrified. It will be interesting to see whether Toby, who’s fast approaching that same age, is similarly affected.

Fear can be a paralysing foe and it only grows in strength as we get older. It can make us conservative, reluctant to change, encourage us to retreat into our own comfort zones. It’s fear of the unknown which prevents many adults from leaving jobs or relationships they no longer enjoy or from seeking out new experiences that might enrich their lives. Better for them to stay in a safe world of what-might-have-beens.

And yet many of the most successful people in life are those who aren’t afraid to take risks and are willing to trade off the possibility of failure against the prospect of glory. They are the ones who, at some level, continue to embrace a child’s fearless sense of adventure, climb on to that scary-looking rollercoaster and tap into the adrenaline rush that drives people to stretch themselves and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Kara will not always be as fearless as she was at Paultons Park this weekend. But if we can encourage her (and the boys) to recognise and hold back the fears that could prevent them from being everything they could possibly be, then we’ll have done well. In the meantime, I’ll be taking her on as many rollercoasters as possible.


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