Riding a New Carousel

Stepping into the fog of this new year, things felt a bit off-kilter for me, like I couldn’t quite settle down after my move and the holidays– still thinking there’s “one more thing” I need to get done. But the thing I most needed to do was spend time yesterday with my younger grandson, Parks. One of my Christmas gifts to him was to do a special activity–just the two of us. Usually, he shares me with his older brother, Baker who easily dominates with his constant questions or interrupts when I focus on his little brother; it’s hard for the older one to let go of being the center of attention.

For our activity, I chose to take him to Pullen Park in Raleigh. Its sixty-six acres were created in 1887 as the first public park in North Carolina and the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. I hadn’t been there since Parks’ dad was in a stroller.

Our Saturday morning was cloudy and gray, with a damp chill. It wasn’t an ideal day at the park–which is especially beautiful in spring and summer with its variety of trees, foot bridges, lake, and natural beauty. Parks didn’t know it wasn’t an ideal day; he just knew there would be train and carousel rides. He understood what a train is but had never seen a carousel. He didn’t hesitate to climb into the train seat–only wanting to know if he could get out and pick up a stick near the tracks. It was a breezy ride that circled the periphery of the park.

Afterwards, we headed for the enclosed carousel and I was grateful to be sheltered in that warm space. Parks watched the colorful animals, all 52 hand-carved from wood, circling to the music of “Daisy Daisy” aka “Daisy Bell” playing from the Wurlitzer Band organ.

“There’s a lion,” he said, and pointed to it on the outer circle of the stationary figures. I could only imagine how overwhelming the site must be from his two-year-old perspective with the the carousel twirling with all the brightly colored animals. There weren’t many parents and children riding yet. When the operator opened the gate for us to get on, Parks was hesitant and I told him to pick out where he’d like to sit.

“I wanna ride in Santa’s sleigh,” he said, and climbed into one of the seats of the stationary three-seater sleigh. It didn’t have Santa but the shape appeared like the ones he saw in movies during the holidays.

He watched, wide-eyed, as we rode in our secure seat around in the circle and he looked with fascination as the animals went up-and-down. When it was time to get off, we walked outside the building and he wanted to ride Santa’s sleigh again; so we did. This time, he loosened up and turned around in his seat to see what was going on behind us. The two trips around had given him his first feeling of familiarity with a carousel. Before this, he’d only seen them in pictures and in the books I’d given him.

After the second trip around on the stationary sleigh, we took a break from the carousel and he did a familiar activity; played on the slides. He has mastery over the slide, even the more steep and winding one. But not long after doing the activity he’s good at, the one that is safe, he wanted to go back to the carousel.

“I want to ride the goat,” he told me.

We’d talked about the animals on the outer part of the carousel circle that stay in place and the other two rows with the animals that go up-and-down. He knew the goat stayed in place. At first he was hesitant when I put him into the saddle but then he held on to the brass bar and I stood close to him– except when he let me take his picture.

With the goat, and later with the other animals, I asked him, “Parks, what would you name this animal?”

He stroked the back of each one’s neck and answered, “Popcorn.”

While he denied it, that’s been one of his nicknames.

With each ride on a new animal, I saw the same process: he had to get used to how it felt to be up high in the saddle. His face relaxed and he’d look around. I imagined how that initially overwhelming scene was becoming more familiar, and more entertaining, as he felt more safe.

After we went around on the goat, it was time for a break to get a snack and buy more tickets. I wanted him to ride the carousel enough to feel more mastery—just like all those trips up the small slide to the larger slide had done when those were new skills.

When he finished his cookie, he said he wanted to go back to the carousel.

“I want to ride the pig,” he said.

I reminded him that the pig would go up and down but I’d stay beside him. He held on tight to me with one hand and to the brass pole with the other. When it started moving, at first he had a smile but then he looked afraid and started leaning toward me.

“I’m gonna fall,” he said, and was ready to get off.

But, with just a little reassurance, holding more tightly to the brass pole with both hands, and me putting my arm around him, he stayed on for the entire ride. He had a slight grin when I praised him for riding that pig that went so high.

We ended our outing with a final ride on the train– which he didn’t hesitate to approach for a second time. It felt right to complete his adventure at Pullen Park on safe and familiar ground.

I thought about how my grandson approached the new skill of riding on the carousel. At first, the scene he entered was overwhelming: multiple things happening at once inside an unfamiliar building, colorful carousel animals going up and down and in a circle–all at the same time, people he’d never seen before, the loud Wurlitzer organ playing songs he’d never heard. This was all from a two-year old’s viewpoint who was much shorter than the animals that were painted with bold colors.

But in the course of our time, he was able to overcome that beginner’s fear and move over the threshold of a first success of riding the moving pig. He started with a familiar activity he enjoyed–riding the train, and then approached the unfamiliar carousel. He started with riding in a “Santa’s sleigh” that felt safe and comfortable. Gradually he progressed to riding on the stationary animal, with breaks to do the familiar of playing on the slides and eating a snack. Finally, he’d built up his courage to the point of riding the moving pig.

I can see that progression is similar to how I learn skills as an adult–like dancing. I have familiar places, especially the Raleigh Elk’s Lodge, where I have dance friends—people I’ve known since starting there in 2012. At first I felt anxiety–going by myself and only knowing a couple of people from dance classes. But gradually, over the years, I’ve met more people and tried out different styles of dancing in that familiar setting. Later, I tried out Loafer’s Beach Club and took lessons for more styles of dancing and met some new friends.

Recently, I’ve ventured on to Blues dancing and have gone to a couple of venues where I knew very few people. In between those nights in an unfamiliar place doing a new dance, I went back to the Elk’s and Loafer’s and felt that familiar grounding. It helps to have those places and behaviors that make you feel safe and balance the anxiety of the new.

Like Parks, my facial expression and body language show my level of comfort or discomfort when I’m in a new and unfamiliar situation. It helps me, too, when I’m encouraged to take things a step at the time, when I can choose which activity to do first and when I’m ready to progress forward. And sometimes, I’ve needed a tight hold on me to feel safe that I wasn’t going to fall.

I don’t know if when Parks is older he’ll remember any of his first trip to Pullen Park with his Grammy. He’ll have pictures and I’ll tell him about it over the years (I’ll have to save this post for him!!). I’ll remember it for sure; the weather wasn’t idyllic, but the time together was. What a great memory from this first week of 2023.

As we enter our second week of the new year, may you find those unfamiliar areas that offer challenge and a chance to discover new areas of joy. And know, that you can take your time and allow others to hold you safe.

Wishing you the best,



Pullen Park info:


6 thoughts on “Riding a New Carousel

  1. What a marvelous first experience at Pullen Park. You gave him an excellent orientation. I have so many good memories of that place that go back over 60 years.

    Sent from my iPad



    • Hey Harriet,
      Yes, it was that. You’re right that it was an orientation–hadn’t thought of that but it’s true. Riding the carousel is such a rich visual experience. I’m glad you have those memories.
      I can only remember the time we took our children around Easter when Brooks was in a stroller.
      Thanks for reading and responding.


  2. Grammy, you are the Best. This is a keeper, for the future. You will be able to share your joint adventure for many years. The real test will be found in the years after you are gone, Parks will have a very vivid memory of Grammy. As you added in your perspective from the “Dance Life”, I wondered if you were the kid and not Parks. He is adorable and will be one for the future. Not too far removed from his wonderful Grammy This is a beautiful piece, and one to be treasured. Love and Blessings to you.


    • Hey John,
      Thanks so much for your high praise! I love that you wondered if I was the kid and not Parks. Ha! That may have some truth to it, John. When we’re with children they help to transport us.
      Seeing the importance of that day helps to remind me of how we must choose wisely how we spend our precious time. The next day, my daughter-in-law, Emily said she’d just found out she has to register Baker for kindergarten–to start this fall. How sad it made me to see how quickly my older grandson’s pre-school years have flown by.
      Best to you, John as you choose how you spend your precious time.


  3. This writing would appeal to Raleigh parks and recreation since it is about their premier Park. The narrative and pix would be quite special for potential visitors. H

    Sent from my iPad



    • Hey Harriet,
      Thanks for your marketing idea. I don’t often think in those terms–and it helps to have others’ who are looking out for me!
      I’ll have to follow through with this– so check on me to be sure I do.
      Your little sister,


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