Sam Coffey

Sam Coffey in line to ride the Happy Swing again.

It’s hard to let go and let my kids experience things on their own.

I tend to be afraid for them and wish I could always be there to protect them. But that's not how life works.

Last month, my hometown held its annual harvest festival. You know the scene: Parades. Games. Carnival rides. Food trucks and the delicious fried smell of funnel cakes wafting through the air. Kids throwing tantrums because they want to play the $10 hammer game so they can get that $2 plastic sword that lights up.

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My oldest son, Sam, is 5, and this year was the first he'd been able to ride most of the rides. We headed down to the festival on a Saturday afternoon and bought them unlimited ride wristbands. He spent the afternoon riding many of the kiddie rides before we took a dinner break and watched the parade in the rain. Then it was back for more rides.

The rain meant a few were closed, including the kiddie roller coaster that Sam was dying to ride again.

Sam’s not a fan of swings or anything that goes too high or too fast; he's always hated the feeling he gets in his tummy when you push him too high. But I pointed at the giant "Happy Swing" ride — effectively a giant swing that carried a dozen kids at a time — guessing there was no way Sam would want to ride it.

He thought about it for a moment and then said, "OK. Yeah I'll go on that one."

I was shocked. "Are you sure? It's a big swing. It's going to tickle your tummy a lot!"

Sam was adamant. There was no talking him out of it. Did I want to needlessly scare him out of doing it so I could save him? Or should I let him try it and figure it out himself?

I decided to let him try. So we stood in line, him excited and me insanely anxious.

(We already had one bad ride experience that day. My 3-year-old pulled a "oh-my-gosh-get-me-off-of-this-ride-now" crying stint while he rode maybe the simplest ride at the fair: cute little elephants that slowly went in a circle. Did I want to go through that again?)

As we waited, I realized it wasn't about me. I knew Sam would have fun, at least once the tummy tickle part went away.

When it was his turn, he ran up to the swing and took his place on the far right. I gave him a thumbs up and he returned the gesture. I then turned my phone on and started videoing. I knew he’d have some kind of reaction, and I wanted to document this brave moment in his little life.

After he got strapped in, I noticed he looked a little nervous, almost like he regretted his decision. When the machine made a noise, Sam's face went into full panic mode. As soon as the swing started moving, he yelled out in fear and then sunk down in his seat. His legs flew out in front of him as though that would stop the ride from moving.

The little boy next to him panicked, thinking something was wrong or that Sam was going to fall out, and the boy grabbed on to him. It warmed my soul to see how caring kids can be toward each other.

Then I laughed. A lot. And my husband laughed. All the while, we yelled reassurances at Sam, who slowly got used to the swing and finally sat himself up.

Eventually, I caught a smile, he threw us a thumbs up and even tossed one hand in the air like the other kids did.

When it was over, he hopped down and came running to me. We were still laughing, and I told him what a great job he did and how proud I was of him.

Sam said it was really scary at first but that he really liked it. He asked if he could ride it one more time.

On his second round, he was great. He wasn't scared at all and the tummy-tickling swinging sensation didn't have an effect on him. This time, he put both hands in the air.

While it was hard at first, I'm glad I let him ride the "Happy Swing." I’m glad I let go.

I think it gave Sam a boost of confidence, and it was something he talked about for a good week afterward.

We recently watched the video of his first ride. We laughed again, and Sam laughed at himself.

"I was so scared, and that little boy helped me, but then I liked it and went on it again," he said. He was proud of himself; beaming even.

It's good to have these little moments to build on. I want him to know he's a strong, capable person who can do anything he sets his mind to. And that I'll always be there on the sidelines, cheering him on — even if I'm also kind of giggling along the way.

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