What I learned from taking my 11-year-old to Magic Mountain

Unfictional Producer, Bob Carlson and his daughter Tess
Unfictional Producer Bob Carlson and his daughter Tess

One day just after my daughter Tess had finished 5th grade, she mentioned how often kids at school would return after a weekend at Six Flags Magic Mountain with stories about extreme rides full of high speed, big drops, and loops. Tess mentioned that she felt immature when she heard these stories, because she felt that she was nowhere near brave enough to ride a big roller coaster with loops.

As soon as I heard her say that, I realized this was a chance for Tess to build her confidence, and that this could be a great story for UnFictional. As we drove along, I said to Tess, “you and me are going to Magic Mountain.”

So just before the start of school, Tess and I took advantage of dwindling crowds, and set off for Magic Mountain. We started on a roller coaster ride made for little kids, which Tess handled with no problem. We moved to one of the older rides at the park, The Gold Rusher, (which I remembered riding when I was in middle school.) Tess and I were the only ones on the ride, we sat in the front of an empty train and she had a great time. She also loved the speedy hanging coaster called Ninja. (I did NOT tell Tess that the coaster had an accident last year.)

It wasn’t until we were in line at a ride called Revolution that Tess started to get nervous. It was to be her first ever looping roller coaster. The Revolution was built in the 70s, it was one of the first vertical looping roller coasters anywhere (and was the first loop I ever rode.) Tess was very nervous in the beginning, but once she went around the loop, she was ecstatic. “I am a different person than I was a minute ago,” she said.

As a radio producer, this whole project was new experience. In this case, I wasn’t a dispassionate observer-reporter. While I WAS trying to capture great audio to use on the radio, (and not drop expensive recording equipment from the top of a moving roller coaster.) I was ALSO trying to attend to my daughter, who was excited but also on-edge, wondering if there would be a point where she reach the limits of her bravery.

Tess believed she had reached her limit when were about to board Viper, an impressive metal coaster with seven vertical and corkscrew loops. This is where I had to completely move to my Dad mode and try to gently help calm her down, and convince her that if she could ride one loop, she could ride seven. “I’m going to throw up because there are too many loops,” she said, on the verge of tears. She said if she went on the ride she’d be “freaking out,” and would want to run home.

Eventually Tess’ anxiety lost out over her courage, and she rode the seven-loop roller coaster. At the end of the day she was eager to fill everyone else in what she had learned. “When you face your fears, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.”

I had a pretty good idea that Tess would go through with riding Viper. Even though she often gets nervous about new experiences, she almost always tries new things and her mom and I always encourage her to go beyond her comfort zone. She even has a few talents that other people might consider fears: speaking in public, rock climbing, catching spiders.

The big thing I learned about my daughter was that she was really good at radio! She seemed to have an intuitive sense for what needed to be said and how to speak with clarity and economy. We never used a script, and there were a few times when I told Tess that we needed a bit of narration for an explanation or a transition. She was able to produce perfectly composed and articulate sentences right off the top of her head. I’ve worked with many experienced radio producers who could not have done better.

Tess and I are already looking for our next project.

Listen to Tess vs. The Roller Coaster on Unfictional.