The roller coaster of life

Life over the past three months has been full of ups and downs.

For Susan and me, there is one big rift in our marriage. I like roller coasters. Susan does not. In the one year Susan and I had season passes for Six Flags America, I could never get her to ride Superman: Ride of Steel, a 208-foot-tall (63-meter) roller coaster with a maximum speed of 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour). That is just one of several roller coasters Susan has refused to ride with me.

(I guess I do have to give Susan brownie points for the times she has ridden coasters with me. And Susan has to admit that there was one roller coaster she actually enjoyed: the Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.)

Funny thing is, I didn’t used to like roller coasters. At all. I avoided them at any cost. Even if it meant standing around all by myself while everyone I was with queued up and rode the ride. I mean, I was afraid of riding the Scooby Doo at Carowinds, which is probably the tamest roller coaster physically large enough for an adult to ride. I know: I was pretty lame.

My point in mentioning all of this is to say that our lives over the past three months have felt a bit like a ride on a roller coaster. We have felt many exciting ups: happy, fun times we’ve spent together and the joy of seeing Fiona grow and learn. But we’ve also gone through a larger-than-usual number of downs—times of worry and concern as we try to figure out our future and what’s best for our family.

Our trip over Susan’s spring break to the Deep South (and, on the way home, Chicago) was our first big family vacation since Fiona’s arrival. It definitely generated some memories—and plenty of photos—that we’ll cherish for a long time to come. Fiona had a blast, riding in the sleeper car on the train, going to the top of Vulcan’s pedestal in Birmingham, and being enthralled by New Orleans’s French Quarter.

Spring has turned to summer, which in Washington, D.C., means high temperatures, dreadful humidity, and a breeze that, when it blows (which is rarely), feels like the exhaust from a dryer vent. But it also means long days and trips to the farm to pick strawberries, cherries, and blueberries and Sunday evenings at the drum circle in Meridian Hill Park.

It also means Susan is off on summer break. Which this year may prove to be indefinite. See, Susan’s last day at Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was Monday, 20 June. Not only did she submit her resignation, but she can no longer teach in Maryland after last school year. Her five-year Maryland teacher certification expired, and she chose not to renew.

On the other hand, I started a new job as an “outreach organizer” (I’m still learning what that means) at the Transportation for America campaign here in D.C. on Monday, 2 May.

In the end, it is all this with our jobs that has made the last few months feel like a roller coaster. We are both actively looking for new jobs—Susan has had a few interviews, and my current position is guaranteed only through Friday, 28 October. We don’t know what we’ll do beyond then.

So, how did I get past my fear of roller coasters? It was simple: I realized I wasn’t going to get hurt on them. They are designed to thrill you—and maybe even scare you—but they aren’t designed to hurt you. That would, after all, be bad business for those who make and operate them. I realized that I could have confidence in the safety systems: the safety harness would hold me in, the cars wouldn’t come flying off the track, and the brakes would stop us at the end of the ride. I have now ridden many coasters since overcoming my fear, and these safety features have worked—and I have escaped unscathed—every time.

So, how will we get through the roller coaster of life we’re riding right now? The same way: having confidence that everything will work out. I suppose that there’s no guarantee we’ll be “unscathed;” we will undoubtedly have stress and hard decisions to make, and we may even experience unemployment for a time and have to dig into our savings to get through. But that’s one of the reasons we have savings, right? One of us will ultimately find the right job, in a place where our family will be happy and have amazing opportunities to grow, learn, and have fun together. I don’t know when it will happen, but, like any roller coaster—they’re always too short—I bet it will be over before we even expected. We’ll soon pull in to the station and be on solid ground, moving forward with our lives and exhilarated by the thrill of it all.

A down

Dustin feeling sick, 6 April 2011

On 6 April 2011, Dustin was feeling a bit sick to his stomach. But he had a meeting with the management of the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington, Maryland, which he went to anyway with Fiona in tow. On the way home, while riding the L8 Metrobus south on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Dustin realized his stomach wouldn’t contain itself any longer. At Rosemary Street he pulled the cord, got off the bus, and had just enough frame of mind to dash around the corner, where he threw up five times. With Fiona in hand.

Here’s a photo of Dustin sitting in Susan’s sister’s van in the aftermath of the fiasco.

This article appeared on page 2 of Issue 3 | July 2011.

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