You must be ”˜this tall’ or have your dreams dashed

The girl will try almost anything.

If promised to incur no injuries, she’d agree to be thrown down the steps just for a thrill. She begs to be hurled in the air, cackling as her head peaks within inches of the ceiling fan. She and her sister often pretend to strap themselves into an office chair in our basement, eager to be rolled back and forth across the floor and spun with enough force that I’m sure they’ll vomit. We call it “The Ride of Danger.” She fell off once, splatted right on the concrete floor only to laugh, rise and again fasten the fake seat belt, itching for more danger.

So when she strolled up to Reindeer Games at Holiday World earlier this month, wondering if she was finally — finally — tall enough to ride, she was scared of only one thing: genes.

In basketball, my wife and I were guards. Our family tree is a 32-year-old sapling. We have uncles who stand well more than 6 feet, but heredity neglected our parents and, thus, our children. Never was this more evident than Sunday, Sept. 9, a day of sunshine cut short.

The girl who will try anything is Halle, and she will turn 4 years old within hours. You’d think anyone her age could ride an attraction in a section of rides solely for children. Overflowing with hope that she’d soon be repeatedly thrust into the air and suddenly dropped toward the ground, she sprinted to the Reindeer Games entrance. She turned her back to the piece of wood that lets potential riders know they have to be “this tall” and waited for her mother to check.

She was ready for this. And why not? We schemed for this moment for days.

When my wife picked out clothes for the trip the night before, she notified Halle that flip-flops, her footwear of choice, were off-limits.

“Wear tennis shoes,” she urged. “It’ll make you taller. Maybe tall enough to ride Reindeer Games!”

Halle gulped the bait.

The night before we left, I picked up Halle by her ankles and held her upside-down, shaking her as I circled the living room.

“Stretching you out, H,” I told her. “This will make you taller so you can ride Reindeer Games!”

Again, she bought it.

She ate all her green beans. She downed cans of oranges and pineapple and pears. She said extra prayers. For days, weeks, months. Anything for an extra inch.

Reindeer Games is near the park entrance, and on judgment day, Halle wanted to report directly there.

“Wait,” I told her. “We’ll go there last. You’ll grow during the day, so you’ll be taller this afternoon than you are this morning.”

Hours later, she stood next to the horizontal line hovering 42 inches off the ground. My wife held a hand on top of her head. Maybe an inch shy. Hoping the plastic piping, an upside-down “L” that delivers the official ruling, would skim the top of Halle's hair, we told her to run to the front of the line and let the ride attendant take the proper measurement. Stand up straight. Tiptoe, if you have to.

Surely, the young Holiday World employee could see in Halle’s eyes that this moment meant more than anything — more than a face-to-face meeting with Dora the Explorer, more than a dozen birthday cakes, more than a lifetime pass on “The Ride of Danger.” Surely, the pipe would graze her just enough to grant access to this revered machine. Surely, she’d cut the kid some slack. This is, after all, the world’s friendliest park.

I didn’t hear exactly what the worker said. I’d walked away, worried of what might happen. It happened. Halle didn’t make the cut.

She turned and started toward me. For six or seven steps, she remained composed. Then, her eyes met mine, and she let it rip. She sprinted to my feet, leapt into my arms, wrapped her legs around my waist and buried her head in my shoulder in a storm of tears. A minute later, she lifted her chin, looked into the sky as Reindeer Games jerked high and low and spotted her 6-year-old sister giggling. It was like watching the girl you can’t get slide her arms around the quarterback.

I looked back at the ride attendant, who smiled at us. A smile? Really? Let’s be clear: I hold nothing against Holiday World because they have free Dr Pepper and I drink a lot of it. If they would let me, I’d fill a trash can with Dr Pepper and cart it home. So I’m all about Holiday World. But I wanted to send the ride attendant on the log ride without the log.

Instead, I only scowled as Halle and I walked away.

“Next year,” I said. “Next year, you’ll be tall enough.”

This time, she rejected the positivity.

“Next year,” she replied, “is a long time away.”

What could I say? Damn genes.

“Yeah, H,” I said, my voice trailing. “Yeah, it sure is.”

Jason Recker is the enterprise editor at The Herald. He is 5-foot-9. On his tiptoes. His email is jrecker@dcherald.com.




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