Roller Coaster or Carousel

I grew up with two sisters and two brothers. When we reached the much-anticipated dating age, my mom would tell us:

“You must decide now. It’s up to you, not the person you’re dating. What kind of life do you want? Think about it now, so you don’t get confused later…You have only two choices: do you want your life to be a roller coaster, or a carousel?”

She was very careful to make sure that neither of the options seemed “better” or “smarter” than the other.

Image by jing shi from Pixabay

The roller coaster life requires a seat belt. It has breath taking highs, incredible views, perspectives unseen from any other seat at the fair. It’s exhilarating, fun and demanding. It takes a certain boldness, a certain confidence, to ride the roller coaster, for much of it you can’t see from the line, much of it looks terrifying and unreasonable. It has shocking plummets, twists where you lose your equilibrium, sometimes loops that make you question your decision to ride at all.

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

The carousel is dependable, peaceful, predictable and often sweet. Music, that can be annoying over time, plays in the background and sets a tone for happiness and laughter. It doesn’t require a harness, for at most, you simply go up and down on a beautiful horse carved from wood speared by a pole. The person who chooses this life appreciates the little things, marvels in simple pleasures and does not suffer the pangs of jealousy. There is little variety in your view, a great chance of intense boredom and you might question your decision to ride at all.

But, the beauty of the whole experiment was that it was my choice. It was up to me to decide and then love someone who wanted the same kind of life. Know what to look for, know who to “hitch my wagon to,” know what kind of dreams and plans and hopes I was needing to hear. For, she would also remind us all–sons and daughters–you want someone who will walk beside you, who will look to you and treat you and need you as his or her equal. You will not shuffle behind, and you will not obnoxiously walk ahead. Who will be your partner, who will sit next to you on the carousel horse and be happy to be there? Or who will raise his arms up in excitement (and terror) as the coaster tips towards earth?

My choice was, actually, a very accurate (and funny) gauge throughout my dating years. It was a litmus test that I could feel, rather than think through. Often in conversation, my mom would refer to the roller coaster/carousel choice: “Katie, well, honey, is he a roller coaster or a carousel? What does HE want out of life, and is it what you want, too?”

And yes, just as she advised, there are days I question my choice. I wonder if the other option might have been wiser or kinder or safer. I wonder what my life would have looked like had I gotten in the other ride’s line, instead.

It’s the nature of living, I suppose. Neither option was perfect, and neither came with a guarantee. They both held moments of happiness and hardship, they both offered times of laughter and disappointment.

And you? What are you? What are your children? It’s a fun game to play, but I’ve always found it pretty telling. 🙂

I wish you joy on your ride, and I pray your choice was all you hoped it could be.

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