LAST WEEK, as I've done every year for more than a decade, I took the family to Hershey Park. And just like always, I pretty much knew what to expect.
Eve would be afraid to get on anything that traveled more than 5 feet off the ground. Little Solomon would want to stay in the water-park section. LaVeta, who does not do roller coasters or spinning rides, would eat ice cream, chocolate and other tasty treats. Me? I'd be stuck on kiddie rides with the children.
We've all spent the last dozen years settling into our predictable roles. The kids do what they want, LaVeta eats what she wants and I do the grunt work, including driving to the park and walking for miles while searching for rides that Eve deems safe. At the end of the night, I drive home while guzzling coffee and cranking the air to freeze-ray levels in order to stay awake.
It's been that way for as long as we've been married. Over the years, I've come to expect it, to embrace it and to own it. But this year was different. Not different like, "Hmm, that's peculiar." I'm talking radically different. Upside-down different. Scary different.
For one thing, the kids are getting bigger, so I didn't have to get on every ride with them. LaVeta's good friend and her younger sister came with us, so I didn't have to spend a full day in the water park. But the biggest change had nothing to do with the kids. It was all about LaVeta.
You see, my wife, who does not drive on the highway because the other cars are traveling way too fast; my wife, who has no qualms about calling herself a chicken; my wife, who does not get on the merry-go-round because the spinning makes her dizzy - my wife did the unthinkable. She got on roller coasters. Not run-of-the-mill roller coasters, either. I'm talking top-50-in-America roller coasters, like Fahrenheit.
At first, I thought she'd been abducted by aliens. I imagined something bursting out of her stomach and chewing on my nose. When that didn't happen, I waited for some other sign of extraterrestrial involvement. Having seen "Men in Black," I knew that if she suddenly peeled off her skin and turned into a giant roach, I'd have to do something. As we stood in line, I smiled outwardly. But on the inside I was practicing my mixed-martial-arts moves.
When the moment of truth arrived, my wife did not turn into a space bug. She simply got on the ride. At the end, we walked to the photo booth where they show visual evidence of your scared face, and when I looked at her picture, I knew.
"I've seen you make that face before," I said, speaking slowly as I racked my brain in an attempt to remember. In a few seconds, it came to me. "I got it!" I yelled. "That's how you looked when you were having our kids!"
We rode two more major coasters that day, and she sported the "childbirth face" each time. One of the coasters was Great Bear, which you ride while your feet dangle. The other was Storm Runner, which reaches speeds of 75 mph and features a straight drop.
When I asked LaVeta the reason for her sudden metamorphosis from scaredy-cat to roller-coaster aficionado, she dropped the bomb.
"I'm going through a midlife crisis," she explained. "I'm going to start doing all the things I never did when I was a teenager."
"What kinds of things?" I asked worriedly.
"I'm going to start talking back to my parents," she said.
"You realize your parents are senior citizens now and it's not the same thing, right?"
"I don't care. I still need to do it," she said, rebelliously. "I'm going to run away, too, but I won't run too far because I still don't drive on the highway."
"What else are you going to do?"
"I'm going to sneak my parents' medication and abuse their Metamucil. Then I'm going to cut work and play video games on Little Solomon's Wii. Me and all the girls, including my friend who just signed up for the American Association of Retired Persons ."
Apparently, that's going to be LaVeta's first hooky party. From what she told me, it's going to be pretty wild. "We're going to have Chicken McNuggets and lots of soda," she said proudly.
Darn that Hershey Park and their cursed roller coasters. They've turned my wife into a midlife party girl.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.