In particular, Kyle LOVED the Haunted Castle. I don't know if the concept of a haunted castle was new to him or what, but he was fascinated and had a ton of questions while we were waiting in line. Christina and Joelle sat this ride out, so I did my best to fill him in... Oh, and also to scare the SHIT out of him.
Okay, I'll admit that I got a little carried away. But that's what dad's are for, right? Here's the transcript from our conversation while we were in line:
Kyle: [Laughing] Hey, look at that skeleton that keeps popping up in that window. Cool!
Me: Yeah, I guess that would be cool if it weren't so dangerous. I don't want that thing anywhere near me.
Kyle: It's not dangerous. This is all just pretend.
Me: That's what you keep saying, but not everybody who gets on this ride comes out the other end. Some people never come out. See? Look at that car coming out, it only has 3 people in it. Where did the fourth person go that's supposed to be in that empty seat?
Kyle: [Unsure at this point, and obviously concerned for the "fourth person"] No, you're just pull'n my leg.
Me: Let me tell you something... When I was your age, I came here with my best friend. I sat in the front and he sat in the back. When we went inside and the doors closed it got dark, I heard him scream, and when I looked back he was gone.
Me: Yeah. I never saw him again... It sucked... His parents cried for days.
Lady in line behind us: [Laughing at our conversation]
Kyle: I think you're just kidding.
Me: Okay, whatever. But there's something really important that I need to talk to you about before we go in there. If I'm not sitting next to you when you come out the other end—If the skeletons get me, I want you to stand next to that pole over there and wait for this lady to come out [pointing at the lady in line behind us]. She'll help you find mom. Promise you'll wait for her at the pole?
Me: [To the lady] His mom is on the beach over there. She has dark hair.
Me: [To Kyle] Do you promise Kyle?
Kyle: Yeah, but let's just hold hands so we'll be safe.
By the time we got on the ride, Kyle was still pretty unwavering in his conviction that it was all a big joke. But I could tell I had gotten to him. He was gripping my hand pretty tight and I could feel his heart pounding as the ride started.
So, after the doors closed on us, and the first animatronic ghoul popped up, I started screaming. Not a fun half-hearted, hahaha scream. It was an all-out, top-of-lungs, oh my God somebody is trying to fucking kill me, terror-filled scream.
Looking back, that was pretty stupid, because I had no plan for what would happen if he completely freaked out, which I fully expected him to. It would have ruined his day. It would have destroyed his trust in me. It could have ended very very badly. But what happened next surprised me...
Instead of losing his shit, Kyle pulled me close to him and started repeating, "It's okay Dad. I'm still here. You're still here. We're together. We're going to be okay."
But I was determined to scar him for life and destroy him psychologically (Why? For the fun of it I guess). So, I made a jerking motion and told him that something had my leg, and started screaming again. At the time, It felt like fun, but writing this now, I must admit that I feel like a total ass. Kyle was clearly distraught and his heart was beating out of his chest, but he started yanking on my pant leg and very reassuringly yelled, "It's gonna be alright dad! I'm still here! Let's get close to each other so they can't take us!".
As you can imagine, I kept these antics up for the entire ride. And by the time we came out the other end, he must have looked petrified because the people in line had a good laugh when they saw him. Of course, five minutes later he wanted to go on it again, so I don't feel that bad about it, but still...
I mean, this kid was shaken—no doubt about it. But throughout the entire ride he was so focused on calming me. Rather than letting his own fear get the best of him, he was in control of his emotions and focussed on reassuring me. I've seen him exhibit hints of this behavior before. Like distracting Joelle while she's getting a vaccination shot or showing empathy for a friend that gets hurt. But I was absolutely amazed at how well he was able to keep it together and how focused he was on comforting me.
I'm sure there will be plenty of days to come when Kyle will impress me and make me proud, but I have to say that I had never been more impressed with him than I was when we were exiting that ride. What a great kid.
...I think Joelle would handle it like a champ as well, but then again, I guess we'll find out for sure next summer ;)