I’ve been afraid my whole life and I never really saw it until I had a son that is (unfortunately for him) a lot like me in his trepidation. He wants to do things that are exciting and sometimes a little scary, but he needs time.
A few weeks ago at an indoor waterpark, we walked in and saw slides that began at the ceiling and twisted and wound their way through the heated room to the pool below. I couldn’t imagine going down them and my six year old immediately asked if he had to. I told him no and we went on to other things. For an hour he went back to watch them. First he went with me, then with my husband, then his uncle, we all ‘ohh and ahhed’ and said nothing to him about trying it, but finally he decided that he wanted to, once. Standing at the base of the slide my heart was in my throat for him and I was glad to see a smile the length of his face when he stood up soaked and laughing.
“I’m going again!” He said, and we all filed down behind him. He spent all day going up and down the slide with his cousin and brother and the rest of us, and I couldn’t help but be proud of him for doing something he really wanted to do, even though it scared him.
I tried to tally in my head a list of all the times that I did that and couldn’t come up with more than a few.
I mentioned it to my husband and said that I never would have done what he did.
“Yeah,” he said, “but look who he was with and think about who you would have been with.”
He paused and then said, “No one was yelling at him or making fun of him.”
He had a point.
My childhood is no secret, it wasn’t the worst, but it was hardly filled with warm memories of home and hearth and the encouraging words of loved ones.
I was like my son when I was little. I wanted to ride horses and go on roller coasters and jump in the ocean but my anxiety stopped me from enjoying what I might have. It wouldn’t be until adulthood that I figured out it was anxiety, I knew it then only as cowardice, and it made my Father angry and it stopped my Mother from asking if I wanted to do anything uncomfortable, but it was always there with me, just like it will likely always be with my son.
He wants to know what will happen with absolute certainty before he gets on merry go rounds, or plays soccer with the big kids. He wants to see people do it, and be told by someone who loves him that it doesn’t matter if he goes down the water slide, that it will be there next year. He needs options and room, and the chance to be brave.
I am by no means touting my superiority as a parent, god knows that most of the patience my kids receive comes from their father, and there’s plenty that I do wrong. It’s likely because I’m so riddled with anxiety that I’m careful about it with my children, wanting always to help them realize that you can be both afraid and brave.
In the past few years, as my kids have left toddlerhood behind and started to become actual people with (loud) opinions and desires, I’ve mourned my childhood of lost chances and regretted that I passed on risks more than I took them.
Today I told my six year old, “I’m really proud of you for trying things that scare you.”
He looked at me with a toothless grin and asked, “Do you do things that scare you?”
“Not usually.” I thought of lying, but he has a pretty good ‘bullshit’ detector.
And then he said the kind of thing that he occasionally says, and I try not to let annoy me, because your six year old isn’t supposed to have the aged wisdom your great grandfather has, “You can you know.”
But I didn’t.
I’ve cut ties with people who give me the most anxiety, I’ve begun work that I love, and I’m living a life that I’m proud of, but there’s still so much more I want, so I’ve started a list of things I’m going to do to live my life and not sit back in a corner cowering away from it.
I may have missed my chance to take ballet or try out for the high school play, but my sweet little know-it-all is right, there is still so much time to live bravely and take risks and show anxiety that while it may always be with me, it cannot have the spirit it’s buried beneath it for so long.