one roller coaster, hold the spiders


The following was originally published on October 8, 2008. Click HERE to read the original post in its entirety. Ya know, if you feel the need.


Two and a half years ago, we went to a town fair. It was a typical New England shindig with too many little kids’ rides crammed into a too-small space in the center of town. Colorful signs advertised sticky cotton candy, gooey caramel apples and impossibly delicious funnel cake that would torture little tummies late into the night. The town green was filled with the usual rides – bouncy houses, trains, cars, the sensory assaulting fun house. And of course no fair would be complete without a couple of prize-laden black holes to throw money into.

At the time of the fair, Brooke was three and Katie was five.

Katie spotted the roller coaster and asked if she could go for a ride. Calling it a ‘roller coaster’ is severely overstating the case. It was one of those gentle toddler versions of a roller coaster, made to elicit a thrill from the two to six-year-old set. We counted out our tickets and got on line to take a turn.

While we waited, I asked Brooke if she’d like to go on the ride with her sister. Brooke was a kid who seemed to love speed. We would run down the street with her in her stroller, wind in her hair as she gleefully yelled, ‘Faster! Faster!’ Putting her on the caterpillar coaster seemed to make perfect sense. I had so little understanding of her back then.

When their turn came, Katie took Brooke by the hand and led her out to find a seat. I knew that getting buckled in would be tough. Brooke was fine on all the little slow-moving trains and car rides, but when someone came toward her to check her safety belt, all hell broke loose. On the littler rides it was easier for me to step in and run  interference. At the roller coaster, I was stuck behind a barrier watching helplessly.

I watched them settle in and saw Katie’s posture immediately change. She leaned in toward her sister, hunched protectively over her. The man came over to check the belts. Katie said something to him. He nodded his head in return. Brooke stayed relatively calm.

The ride started with a sudden jerk and I watched with horror as abject terror flashed across my baby’s face. My body tensed and adrenaline surged through my system as she let go a tortured cry. I was desperately afraid that she was going to wriggle out of the belt and escape. I got ready to jump the fence and stop the ride.

But then I saw it – Katie’s mouth pressed to Brooke’s ear. As they came around the corner, I could see that Katie was singing. For the entire seventeen hour duration of that ride, Katie sang to her little sister. She did not stop for a moment.

When the caterpillar finally creaked to a stop, I shoved my way through the crowd and ran frantically past all of the other parents. As soon as I reached them, I scooped my girls out of their car. In the middle of that damned fair I let the tears fall at will. I squeezed Brooke as hard as she’d let me and then I thanked her sister up and down for taking such good care of her. I asked her what she had been singing. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider song, Mama. That’s what you always sing to her when she’s freaking out. She was really scared so I thought it would help her.”

As desperate as I was to leave the fair behind, we stuck around to indulge Katie. I’m pretty sure I even bought her a cotton candy. It’s a good thing they weren’t selling ponies.


The following was taken by Luau this weekend.




Say it with me, won’t you?

Progress happens.

29 thoughts on “one roller coaster, hold the spiders

  1. This is so awesome and I am so glad you posted it. I had a hellish morning and felt really discouraged. This certainly brightened my day and gave me hope. I LOVE the picture.

  2. What a perfect metaphore the roller coaster is…. such are our lives!! we may have to go down some with speeds that we can’t control, but how fun and exciting the ride back up can be!! She’s doing so great!! Love hearing all about it!!

  3. This past summer, we were @ the Jersey shore, and went to the boardwalk with big hopes that our 3 year-old, Nicky would enjoy the rides. Unfortunately, he hated everything and screamed and cried and went on only one or two of the rides. He even cried on the train ride, which he usually loves. I remember people staring at us as the train pulled back into the “station”. I was so devastated that I cried through the whole evening as I watched other children on the rides with their proud parents yelling things like “GREAT JOB, BILLY!” All I kept thinking was, “why not my boy?”

    Well, just three months later, last weekend, while at the pumpkin farm, Nicky ASKED to go on the dragon coaster! While waiting in line, I kept saying, “buddy, you know mommy can’t go on this one with you, right?” “you’re going to be alone, you get that right?” And he kept answering, “ok, mom.” Sure enough my big boy went right in his seat, got strapped in, and held on to the bar I pointed out to him. He smiled the whole time – while I sobbed behind the barrier behind my sunglasses.

    Yes, mommas, PROGRESS HAPPENS 🙂

  4. I’m in tears (once again) at my desk at work. I cried over that post in 2008 and here I am again 🙂 Fabulous, gorgeous, wonderful photo. Thanks as always for sharing the progress.

  5. Just remember you are an important part of that progress happening… gently pushing her comfort zone (as painful and as exhausting as that is at times) you have expanded her zone and progress keeps happening! Love this post!

  6. I am glad I started following you. This is a great post and shows what love and good examples can do for our children. They are always full of suprises and exceeding expections. Sometimes too much wisdom for their age.

    Thank you for sharing and God bless you and your children.

    I love the post.

    PS – my eyes watered up as well with this post.

  7. I am more in awe at the Katie story! Wow, I wish she could be cloned, lol. My daughter will not have anything to do with rides unless it;s a merry-go-round. So proud of Brooke! My daughter came home with her reading test yesterday and in TWO catagories she had PERFECT scores. Allover test score was 93%. Our kids never cease to amaze us, yay for progress!

  8. “Katie” is always watching her mommy and she hears everything. She is just like my daughter…I wonder how she got like that?
    It’s wonderful to see the progress as a result of all of everyone’s effort.
    I promise the future will continue to brighten because of all you do as a family for each other.
    Love you,

  9. Awesome, love it. We had our first roller-coaster ride this fall too. I went with him and his little brother, now I wonder if thye could have done it alone. Next time. The roller coaster is a such a perfect analogy for how we roll, isn’t it?

  10. Fantastic progress!! Just had an interim IEP meeting at school for my third grader and we were noting how much things had changed since he started there at 3 years old.

    By the way, in terms of branching out to new activities, they have two sensory friendly autism days at Sesame Place (the Sesame Street themed amusement park in Pennsylvania) where attendance is limited and accomodations made to attractions for the sensory needs of attendees. One day in the spring and one in the fall. The link is We have not attended because sensory defensiveness is not a particular issue with Dylan, so we like to leave spots open for kids who would not otherwise be able to attend, but have heard positive things from other parents.


  11. Jess: I’m so glad I finally subscribed to your blog! Just the last couple days since doing so has made me laugh, cry, say “oh yeah, I know how THAT feels” and it’s been refreshing for me! (not to mention also reading about Luau’s blue hair mission!). What is it about those teeny Dragon roller coasters! They’re everywhere! My daughter Katherine wanted so badly to go on that ride, oh maybe 8 or 9 years ago—she was still in that stage where she had hardly any vocabulary to communicate with us except for meltdowns….fast forward to my actually getting in that darned Dragon beast with her just to prevent the meltdown from escalating further and to avoid the ignorant stares from other parents! The stares from other parents didn’t cease unfortunately only because here I was a late 30-something riding the Dragon—I think I stuck out 10 feet above the seat and was the ONLY parent on the ride! But we made it through the first time with me also singing to Katherine as she screamed bloody murder until the ride ended! She wanted to go again! And we did! I didn’t give a shit what others thought—yes I did actually—but I has to get past this! The next time was way better! But it took a few more years for her to finally tell me, “I want to go by myself”! And that she did!
    Now as as early 50-something I am more relaxed as she gets on one of those crazy roller coasters with her older brother—you know the kind that goes 200mph forward and then does the same in reverse while blasting heavy metal/rock n roll music? Thankfully I don’t have to accompany her these days! Progress comes, albeit slow, but it happens!
    Keep writing! (I need to locate some pictures of me riding the Dragon back then! Might make some pee their pants laughing!)

    • Sarah…I LOVE your story!!! I hope you find a picture of you on that coaster – would love to see it. I have plenty of those…you know, me sitting in an impossibly small seat, strapped in, with my knees up to my chin….looking around at all the people staring like, “what? I love this ride”. Please keep sharing!

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