Bumper Cars

The bumper car experience? Not my thing. Mostly, what I recall of being subjected to bumper cars was being rammed by some demon-eyed boy, laughing gleefully.

I found myself on the receiving end of jolt after jolt, looking wildly around, terrified of the next hit.

Strike back? Deliberately?

I never understood the point.

That alone, that realization that retaliation for its own sake is foreign to me, speaks volumes. And yet I could have enjoyed the feel of being behind the wheel as a child, the physical pleasure of the twists and turns, but only if I didn’t need to fend off the next attack.

Naturally it would have been far more fun if I were cushioned in the arms of an adult – able to thrill at the speed, the suspense, even the strategy – but without taking the full brunt of blows. I wouldn’t have felt so tiny, so helpless. Nor would I have returned home with black and blues.

Taking Hits Alone

I used to think I hated those metal machines because I was a girl, though I sometimes reasoned that bumper cars might have been a blast had I been cradled in the embrace of my dad.

Then again, I have two sons. One loved bumper cars (and piloting on his own), while the other didn’t. Perhaps this is a matter of temperament, or even size and muscle.

Still, isn’t any hit less painful when you have some cushion? If someone you trust is at your side or has your back – emotionally, financially, or literally?

What if the pace of bumper cars weren’t so frenzied – and the head-on hits came less fast and furious?

What if we raised our children to understand that life has its ups and downs, its side-swipes and near misses, but we exercise choice in the degree to which these incidents become combative, how frequently they recur, and how serious the consequences – at least for some of the collisions?

When the Hits Keep Coming

There are times when we all take hits, though we don’t go looking for them. You know exactly what I mean – hits in our relationships as we pair off too quickly or too young; perhaps we never see the signs of a personality that isn’t suitable, or we find ourselves contending with character issues that were intentionally hidden or develop down the line.

We may take hits in marriage, and we come to appreciate the stamina and skills required of navigating life as a duo and then a family unit. Some will flail, some will bail, and most of us do our best to rise to the occasion.

Some take terrible hits during divorce and after; we try to become the safe haven for our kids and shield them from as much of the pain as we can, hoping to absorb the worst of their shock and anxiety.

Life itself deals blows we can’t possibly anticipate: health issues, money problems, a lousy economy. Some may roll with these punches better than others. So about those bumper cars… Are they teaching us dreadful lessons about lack of control, or vital ones when it comes to toughening up?

The Lessons in Bumper Cars

I know this: You won’t get me on a bumper car these days, that’s for sure! Yet they offer both terrible and necessary lessons: that we will be hit hard and at times, without cushion; that we will experience periods of powerlessness because we aren’t yet “big” enough to fight back; that hurt will come from every direction.

If we’re fortunate, if our voices are clear – we can say “stop” – and walk away from what we deem pointless, which isn’t to say there aren’t moments to stand up, speak up, and fight the good fight.

On the other hand, bumper cars instruct us on the reality of unanticipated hits – regardless of the expectations of a “smooth ride through life” and our adherence to playing by the rules.

Certainly, this conversation goes hand in hand with the concept of being deserving; that some deserve happiness (or family or health or “success”) more than others.

It also challenges our beliefs that if we work hard we will receive life’s greater gifts.

I’m a believer in working hard, but I also understand there are no guarantees, and disappointment arrives on the scene when the difference between expectation and outcome is gaping.

The Rabbit’s Foot, the Lucky Penny

Naturally, I had my assortment of talismans to protect me as a child, or at least, I hoped as much. I find myself remembering the premature death of one of my mother’s friends, a woman who was like family to all of us.

I must have been five or six at the time. There was no discussion, no elaboration, no soft landing to come to grips with what it meant. Consequently, I was afraid for months, horribly afraid, that death would grab me for absolutely no reason. So I fell back on what I could – clutching “lucky pennies,” searching for four-leaf clovers in the grassy yard, counting cars passing in the night – hell, I counted everything – and numbers afforded me a semblance of safety.

Friends had prayers and gods and talismans of other sorts – marbles or a special stone, or possibly a rabbit’s foot, at the time, a common object for a kid, dangling from a chain or tucked into a pocket.

In youth, in ignorance, absent a cushion – we reach for what we can.

The Bumpy Road

I recall the song, “Every Day is a Winding Road.” True enough. But what if we acknowledge that every day is not only winding, but uneven and occasionally marked by potholes? That this is normal – and not personal? What if we position our starts and stops, our digressions, our unattained destinations less as failures and more simply – as life?

I’ve experienced my share of calm and pleasant stretches along my path, but they rarely come when anticipated or even planned. Life is bumpy, attitude helps, actions are key, failures are inevitable. And let’s not forget – luck is real. The hits will come – to some more than others – and we will deal with them, some better than others.

So what if gently reset expectations? What if we allow ourselves to hop out of the bumper cars, while retaining the importance of resiliency? Is it possible to teach our children that the path is winding and pitted but not necessarily frightening? Can we cushion them well when they truly need it, but as they grow, let them go to find their way? Might we do the same for ourselves and each other?