Canada’s Wonderland with an 8-Year Old: Lesson Learned

September 16, 2017

Canada’s Wonderland entrance

The time had come for my much anticipated trip to Canada’s Wonderland with my 8-year old goddaughter and it was going to be epic! Unlike anything she’s ever experienced, it was to be the true hallmark of her Toronto visit. As I was getting ready that morning, a panorama of images raced through my mind: us smiling for the camera with mouths stuffed full of sugary toxins, us screaming hysterically in a death-defying roller coaster descent, her showing off some obnoxiously-coloured souvenir, etc. This day was certainly going to be unforgettable.

And unforgettable indeed it would turn out to be, but for totally unanticipated reasons.

We played some games and won a prize

The first half of the day was spent meeting her fancy: the candy stores with rainbows of every conceivable sugary treat, souvenir shops full of twinkling temptations and the ubiquitous “poop hat” (her words. Think of the emoticon depicting a smiling lump of excrement, now available as a hat!), and the mandatory stop for some Dippin’ Dots. Dots digested, we tried an airplane-like ride called the Skyhawk that re-awakened my fear of heights, something quite comical for her! Our next stop was SplashWorks, because all morning she’d been asking about going to the water park. Here, she slipped down water slides and tubed lazily down a water causeway while I held our stuff and towelled her off between stops. Sometime in the afternoon came lunch, and then my (not so) brilliant idea to try a rollercoaster. 

Getting splashed at SplashWorks

Originally, my young pal had said no, she’s not interested in rollercoasters. We’d stopped at one of Wonderland’s height-testing stations and knew that as far as height requirements went, she could ride most of the rollercoasters. Later on, it became apparent that I should have taken more seriously the attraction rating system as well; this rating system indicates the level of aggressiveness, like fast/steep descents, of each ride. Barring all this, we strolled up to the Mighty Canadian Minebuster, an old favourite of mine. She said yes, she wanted to try it; in the spirit of things, I eagerly led her to the line. Here’s where the story turns south.

Down the lazy river at SplashWorks

It looked docile enough from the line and even when the attendant strapped us in our seats, she nodded as I said, “Time to rock an’ roll!” We started up the initial, gentle incline, made a shallow turn and then…aaaggghh!!!…. out of nowhere we were screaming downwards at lightning speeds and then suddenly jolted into a right turn before plunging downwards again. I glanced to my right quickly to see that the smiling face had been replaced by one set up to cry, and that it was emitting whimpers barely audible above the chaos: it was total sensory overload of screaming voices, wheels creaking on the tracks, wind whipping our faces, our bodies jolting aggressively back and forth at every turn, and then daylight flicking suddenly to pitch black as we tore into the “mine”, all the time roaring ahead at full speed. Instinctively I stretched my right arm across her chest, pinned her lightly to the seat and yelled for her to close her eyes and keep them shut. She did, but her face was fixed in an expression about to burst out in tears. A flash of fearful thoughts raced through my mind against the bedlam in the background: what if this child has a heart attack? What is she sustains bodily injuries from this? This isn’t happening, I thought. This just isn’t happening.

FRONT SEAT VIEW ON THE MIGHTY CANADIAN MINEBUSTER!

What seemed like an eternity later, we had pelted around the last corner and were now slowing down on the approach to the starting point. Eyes open now, she fearfully asked if we were going around again. I assured her that we were just returning to the starting point where the next set of riders would take their seats. As we were unstrapped from our seats, her face told me that this was not the end of this ordeal.

A candy store stop is always a winner!

Back on solid ground now, she said she wanted to go far, far away from this ride and that she would never ride a rollercoaster again! She also indicated some shakiness her legs, but I was glad to know she wasn’t hurt. Recognizing this as shock, I encouraged her to not close the door totally on rollercoasters; she could try one again in the future whenever she felt ready. She understood this of course but by this time had lost any desire to go any other rides. It took a long time for her mood to change but the traipsing in and out of souvenir shops and a small snack seemed to help.

Here’s my lesson in all this: an intelligent, intellectually developed, well-behaved, child who happens to be tall is still a CHILD. This child will still have the needs, weakness, naiveté, and fears of any other child. Worse yet, in my case this child doesn’t live in a culture where rollercoasters are a “thing”: Coney Island has come to her native Barbados a few times, but not in her lifetime. I took her straight out of a tranquil paradise of palm trees and Frozen dolls and stuck her on a raging, roaring “fun” machine expecting her to love it and want more. A better analysis of the situation would have prompted me to seek out the kids’ spots. Post-experience, I found out that sure enough, Canada’s Wonderland has Kidsville Station and Planet Snoopy areas where kids can enjoy rides designed specifically for them and mingle with Charlie Brown and his Peanuts friends.

Thus, our Canada’s Wonderland experience. Lucky for me, my mature and sensible goddaughter calmed down and realized that Godmummy Shana had made a mistake. Still, she wasn’t interested in any more rides; she was content to spend the remainder of the evening  perusing souvenir and candy shops. When the smile reappeared later, she even relented and said she’d wait until her 30’s or 50’s for her next rollercoaster ride! It was a relief to know that my mistake hadn’t traumatized her forever about what could be a really cool experience.  I was already planning for that time in her 30’s or 50’s…..

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