Saturday, July 30, 2005

Facing Our Fears

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With his older brother and sister gallivanting around California presumably having a grand time on an extended summer vacation with their grandparents, we knew we had to spend some extra quality time with our seven-year-old Aviv who had been “left behind” in Israel.

This need was made abundantly clear during a phone call Aviv had with thirteen-year-old Amir shortly after they landed in Los Angeles.

"What are you doing there, Amir?" Aviv asked his big brother.

“Well, tomorrow we're going to Disneyland,” Amir said mostly matter-of-fact.

“No you’re not,” Aviv replied quickly, but there was a muted look of panic in his eyes. How could he not be included in the annual Disneyland trip, the penultimate height of summer fun?

“Yes we are going,” Amir said.

“No, you’re not!” Aviv said emphatically.

Thinking quickly, I turned to Aviv. “Tell him where you’re going tomorrow.”

A faint swipe of seven-year-old smugness settled over Aviv’s face.

“Well, we’re going to a water park…and you’re not.”

“Big deal,” Amir shot back.

But it was a big deal.

As we entered the Yamit 2000 park in Holon with our friends Debbie and Eliot and their two boys Liav and Avidan, Aviv’s water-loving eyes lit up.

Spread out in front of us were two enormous water slides that fed into what appeared to be a near-Olympic-sized swimming pool; a rambunctious children’s area with a wave pool and randomly timed fountains that erupted to spritz unsuspecting passersby in the face; and a wacky contraption called the Space Bowl that shoots the rider into what I can only describe as a giant toilet basin where you circle round the side at breakneck speed before finally “plopping” through the bottom into the pool below.

There was also plenty of grass and beach chairs to make a respectable picnic…if you can hold down your lunch after swirling through that toilet bowl thingamajig.

But the main attraction of Yamit 2000 was a new indoor section with what was billed as “extreme” water slides.

Which is, of course, exactly where we headed first.

There were three extreme slides to choose from. The “Amazonas” ride was actually pretty tame. You glide down on a big yellow inner tube. Aviv went with my wife Jody, and I went on my own. It was a leisurely, almost dreamy experience.

The other two rides were decidedly less bucolic. One had the calming name “Super Kamikaze.”

“What’s that mean?” Aviv asked innocently.

“Well, kamikazes were pilots in Japan who dive bombed their planes straight down like bombs. So I guess it’s a slide that goes very fast.”

Aviv made a face.

“What about that one?” Aviv asked, pointing to the third “extreme” slide – this one called “The Black Hole.”

I had read about this one on the Internet before we came. “It’s a slide that goes in complete darkness.”

“Oh no, I don’t want to do that one,” Aviv said immediately.

“You sure?” I asked. “It sounds fun.” The line was the longest of all, and it was the most heavily promoted. Extreme slide enthusiast that I am, I figured that ought to account for something.

“Abba, no! You know I don’t like the dark.”

“You know sometimes it’s good to face our fears,” Jody poked in.

Aviv looked perplexed.

“That’s when you do the thing you’re most afraid of,” Jody clarified.

“Well I’m not doing it, so don’t ask me again!”

And that was that. Or so we thought.

We went on the Amazonas a second and third time, and on the outdoor slides at least four. But there was something rattling around in little Aviv’s brain. He didn’t express it out loud, but clearly he was thinking about something. We just didn’t know what.

We had some lunch and rested before heading back to extreme action land.

“OK, I decided,” Aviv announced suddenly.

“Decided…what?” I asked.

“I’ll do it. The Black Hole.”


“Yes. I’m going to face my fears.”

Jody and I gave him a high five and then, before he could change his mind, we raced to get in line. The line of course snaked much too slowly, giving our inner chickens plenty of time to cluck away. But Aviv stayed steadfast with his decision. We climbed the stairs to the top and then faced down the Black Hole.

I sat Aviv on my lap and we shot off into the enveloping darkness. They’d done a good job of painting the tube black; it was so dark that at one point I wasn’t sure we were even moving.

I kept repeating encouraging words to Aviv.

“Isn’t this great?” I said. “Not too fast. Not too scary.”

Aviv giggled nervously.

The slide sped up. Faintly lit stars appeared on the side, illuminating our faces. Aviv still looked tentative. Then the path dropped suddenly. I was thrust to my back as we sped up with a wicked start. I struggled to regain a sitting position which I knew would slow us down.

The stars faded and now arrows pointing backward zipped by, as if to say “you’re going the wrong way, turn back.” Right, like that was going to happen. We were locked into an R-rated version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I envied the big kids at Disneyland with their safety-tested family fun. Another twist, another lurching turn and then…

…we were out. Back in the normalcy of daylight. Aviv and I both caught our breath.

“That was great!” I said, not entirely sure of myself. “Wasn’t it?”

But there was no question for Aviv: he had a huge grin on his face that said loud and clear that while he may not have enjoyed every moment, he was darn proud. He had faced his fears…and come through with flying colors (or lack of color, this was after all the Black Hole”).

“So you ready for the Kamikaze now?” I asked.

Aviv looked at me like I was crazy.

“Come on then…” I said. And the three of us got back in line, fears faced, to do the Black Hole again.