Not many 9-year-olds have already made a list of sights to see, but Ben Pierce of Denton has.
He wants to meet a moose and maybe gaze on the Northern Lights before his vision gets so bad that he can’t enjoy them.
On Tuesday, he was enjoying his favorite ride at Six Flags Over Texas (the Mini Mine Train) and getting a VIP tour with his parents and five siblings, courtesy of the park staff, which had heard that the Pierces were coming to visit and wanted to surprise them.
“Actually, we weren’t even on Ben’s list,” said Six Flags communication manager Sharon Parker, who did some legwork and found Ben’s mom.
The raucous Dance Party kickoff to the morning was a little overwhelming for soft-spoken Ben, but by the time the family set off for rides with their personal park host, James Patterson, the bespectacled boy was smiling, peering at trees and racing toward the next stop.
Ben was born prematurely at only 1 pound, 6 ounces, and one of the complications is a condition known as ROP, retinopathy of prematurity. The family has been told that Ben’s vision will worsen profoundly as he nears adulthood. Some cases of ROP are mild; Ben’s is not.
“I don’t think he will ever go completely blind,” said his mother, Heidi Thaden-Pierce. “Some changes he’s noticed just recently, but we’ll know more in the fall [after his next evaluation].”
Meanwhile, Thaden-Pierce and her husband, Kit Pierce, are spending every spare minute to try and fulfill Ben’s wish list and take him and his siblings Christopher, 12; Moira, 11; Emiline, 7; Joseph, 5; and Olivia, 3, on a visual adventure.
They recently returned from Arches National Park in Utah, fulfilling Ben’s wish to see the desert. They camped and hiked through some of the rock formations.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that he may not be able to enjoy this in the future,” she said at Six Flags on Tuesday. “But even as his eyesight declines, we’re going to keep doing things like this. He’s heard there are cars here that he can drive.”
Ben’s list is a wondrous, evolving thing in itself. His mother posted it on her website, thadenpierce.org.
“It includes little things and big things,” said his father. “We’re probably not going to get to the Great Wall of China, but Six Flags is definitely doable.”
Someone posted his name and mailing address on a website for receiving postcard wishes, and that has broadened his horizons greatly.
“He’s been getting cards from literally around the world,” said his mother. “He’ll say, ‘Mom, we have to go to Malaysia.’ ”
The sheer scope of Ben’s list has ignited his mother’s own imagination as well.
“He wants to see tiny things under a microscope and the stars through a big telescope,” she said. “I was surprised at the diversity of his list.”
Ben rode at the front of the Mini Mine Train with Patterson and appeared a bit tousled as the cars pulled back into the station.
He hopped out, made a panting gesture and hugged his mother.
“It was fun,” he said, “but it was terrifying.”
Or not. Moments later, he was spinning a Texas Teacup car, impatiently waiting for the whirling ride to begin.