So Nelson wanted to go-kart. About three inches ago. He could not drive. Could only be the passenger. For years it seemed. 10 to exact. Finally, two summers ago he was narrowing in on it.
We went to the go-kart track after determining at home that he was just maybe a quarter-inch too short or a quarter-inch tall enough, depending on the angle at which one measured and the loft of his hair. Surely, the measurement at the track would be just as random and we could slide him in.
As a backup plan, one adult floated the idea of measuring himself… then leaving his flip-flops there so Nelson could stand on them. This was great for a laugh. But the laughing was over as we watched Nelson come up a half-inch short on their little wooden board with a fat line that was the stupidest measuring device ever created. (Or so we all said the minute we stepped away from the stupid counter.)
Another long, mournful year passed. Then it was summer 2015. It was Nelson’s year. He had grown! His shoes were thick-soled! His bangs were gelled high! And, without any angulated measuring, he made the mark: He was able to drive.
Only one small problem. He’d just had his appendix out on a lovely July morning at 3 a.m. a few weeks prior and was still under doctor’s orders to take it easy. His father and I did the right thing: He was told to drive with care.
At last, the big moment. He drove around the track for one four-minute trip. And, then, he was done. He did not beg to go again. Tim and I looked at each other in our backup flip-flops, baffled. But it was cool. It saved us another $6 in tokens. Our child assured us that once was enough for the day (showing more maturity than both of us put together).
Enter Spring Break 2016, Gulf Shores, Ala. We were driving past the same go-kart track that we had driven by for years. We had never considered go-karting because for nine years of trips to Alabama, our flip-flops had been bound only for the beach.
But when Nelson looked over and noticed, with a shout, that the track was three stories high, the old dream sparked.
Less than 24 hours later, we were standing in line to ride “Wild Woody,” and I was worried, quite worried, that we would all perish. The track was winding, circular and fenced in with some flimsy 8 x 8 wooden posts and cable, being run by a bunch of teens checking their phones. It was one thing to watch my kids wail into a line of old tires on the ground, but bouncing off posts 30-feet high was another level.
However, Nelson was jumping up and down with glee, his love of go-karting coming through again, a clear two inches above the stupid measuring stick.
Not wanting to be left out, and with a coupon at the ready, I decided I would ride double with Tim and we would supervise the kids from a safe and casual distance, willing to throw ourselves between them and the precipice as needed.
Wrong. The minute the light turned green, Tim stood on the gas pedal and I forgot about my children’s lives and started fearing for my own. He took every corner sideways and every blind sweeping downhill up against the fence. I applied my imaginary brake and cranked my dummy steering wheel to no avail.
We were the most dangerous kart on the track and I could only hope my children were not near their father now, or maybe ever. I asked him to slow down repeatedly and when his face did not register my threats, I finally screamed, “ARE YOU DEAF?”
This seemed to ignite a hidden turbo feature to our kart.
I resorted to punching his arm the rest of the way while catching sight of our children driving just as recklessly as their father a time or two. I swore that I would never allow Tim to drive me anywhere again (except home to Michigan for one last 18-hour chauffeuring).
The minute it was over, the children leapt from their karts and were high-fiving with the thrill of it all: the speed, the height, the people spinning out, their mother flipping out. What a perfect family outing.
It was so good, in fact, that they convinced me to take them back again four days later with their cousins. But this time I saved my own $6 in tokens and sat the ride out.
I stood at the fence in my flip-flops and took pictures instead, screaming inside each time they drifted on that outside curve.
And missing the short days a tiny, teeny lot.