Nothing says love like a roller coaster

September 13th, 2015

At the request of my six-year-old daughter, my dad rode the sea serpent roller coaster at a kiddie amusement park five times. In a row.Roller Coaster with Papu

To fully appreciate his actions, you need a little context: my dad is seventy years old.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s in great health, but the man is no spring chicken. Yet there he was on a Wednesday afternoon this summer, rattling around the roller coaster track, spiraling through the tilt-a-whirl, and soaring to and fro on one of those horrible puke-inducing “Viking ship” rides.

This summer, my family celebrated my grandfather’s 95th birthday. He’s an amazing man whom I love and respect immensely, but he never rode a roller coaster with me. We just didn’t have that kind of relationship. My grandparents lived five hours away from my family, and I saw them a couple times a year at best. When I was in middle school, my grandpa and I were pen pals while he was a touring classical musician, but he and my grandma weren’t present in my daily life.Bikers

They never came to a softball game or a piano recital. I didn’t have sleep-overs at their house or spend rainy afternoons baking cookies in their kitchen. They were loving strangers.

It didn’t seem odd to me at the time. None of my friends had grandparents that were around all that much, either. But when I had kids, my parents made the choice to do things differently. They visited often and when my second child came along, my folks bought a second home near us. Now they split their time between Danville and the small Midwest town I grew up in.

What a gift for my children – this constant relationship with their grandparents. There’s a beautiful intimacy that grows out of a million small interactions, a powerful bond forged through shared experiences. Plus, my parents are enjoying a second chance at the fun parts of raising young children.


When I was little, their lives were busy. Really busy. My mom told me once that it felt like she and my dad took turns being single parents when I was small. As I got older, the chaos receded and my parents never missed a high school tennis match or a softball game. But when I was a toddler and a preschooler, it was pretty hectic.

Now, my parents are retired and they have time to do the things they couldn’t always squeeze in the first time around. Like spend hours reading picture books to a rapt two-year-old. Or stage a breakfast picnic in the park on a Saturday morning. Or ride the serpent roller coaster just one more time a sunny summer afternoon.

This piece originally ran as a column in our local paper.

2 responses to “Nothing says love like a roller coaster”

  1. Jo Burkhalter says:

    This is glorious. Its worth mentioning that Jim is a heck of a brother-in-law. Love him…

  2. karol Crosbie says:

    Oh, what in the heck am I doing in Wooster?
    Volunteering at the UU nursery will not do the trick indefinitely.

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