This past Thanksgiving, we took a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with our kids so that they could experience the mountains and also to get away for a holiday, something which we really have never done before as a family. It ended up being such a fun trip filled with some really good memories; the kids were so excited to see the mountains and experience something different. We spent a day in the Great Smoky Mountain park, hiked to see Laurel Falls, drove into Gatlinburg, and made the decision to visit Anakeesta, a “mountain-based theme park,” which had ziplines, mountain coasters, and gondola rides. We opted for the mountain coasters in lieu of the ziplines and set off towards the ski lift to get to the top of the mountain. This is where it really became interesting, at least for my kids.
I am not afraid of roller coasters. In fact, I love thrill rides and thoroughly enjoyed the roller coasters at Dollywood and have always loved the thrill rides at Disney World. This slow-moving ski lift that we had to take to the top of the mountain, however, was a completely different animal. I rode up with my two youngest kids, with my wife and oldest daughter behind us. As soon as we took off, I realized that this was not my thing. We were sitting on this small bench-like seat with only a rolling bar over our laps; no buckles or seat belts to keep us on the seat, nothing over us to prevent things from falling off of the lift, and definitely nothing to stop the seat from swaying back and forth. I was totally freaked out and wanted to get off of this thing as soon as possible. I was regretting the decision to go up this mountain. Then I looked over at my kids.
While the experience for me was super uncomfortable, my kids loved it. They were swinging their legs over the side, making the lift move back and forth, talking to my wife and daughter behind us, debating how long it would take to fall to the ground (this seriously didn’t make it better for me), soaking up the whole experience with no worries in the world. They kept saying to me, “Don’t look down, Dad!” The fact that I was freaking out just made it that much more fun for them and they didn’t let me forget it the rest of the trip. Here was their dad, leader in all things, unafraid of conflict, bested by a mountain theme park ski lift. I tried to take some pictures, but I was so afraid to move that it was a miracle that I was able to take any; I was so worried I would drop my phone that I was hardly able to move. The kids kept at it and I finally was able to loosen up a little bit and as soon as I did, I started to see why they were so happy. The views were amazing and you could feel the difference in the air as we moved higher and higher. We started laughing together and laughing at the other riders who were as freaked out as I had been at the beginning of the ascent up the mountain. While we did enjoy our time at Anakeesta, the memory of the ski lift up the mountain sticks out in my mind a little bit more than the others.
In life, we often find ourselves in situations that seemed, out the outset, to be straightforward and easy. Sometimes, though, the tables flip on us and we are sitting up on a rickety seat in life, looking around and wondering when this specific ride will be over. We are scared, uncomfortable, and feeling unprepared for the journey we are taking. Whether it’s dealing with a family issue at home, or something going wrong at school at the beginning of the year, these tricky spots in lift creep up and try to take away the enjoyment of this trip we have planned for so long. It’s in these moments when we have a choice to make-do we hold on tight to the seat we are on, white-knuckeld and afraid, or do we take in all that moment has to offer us, carefree and unafraid of the environment around us, just like a kid on vacation. It’s really easy to let life get the best of us, especially as parents. I’ve found myself so many times in the midst of something thinking to myself, “How did we get here?,” or “When is this going to be over?” Instead, maybe I should have looked around, stood confidently in that moment and decided to enjoy as much of that time as I could. It’s not always that the moment is scary itself, but more of our perception of what we are going through. In these moments, maybe we just don’t look down and keep moving, and eventually we can reach the top of the mountain.