Alexi Murdoch often whispers this thought in my ear: “It’s only fear.” It’s good he is my main Pandora station. Posturing that fear can be insignificant is a magnificent rational leap.
My kids continually surprise me regarding the fear department. They have old apprehensions I think will always be with them. Then they shed these phobias and tell me how silly I am to think they are still afraid of horses, the dark, and going to camp without their friends. How easily they step into new versions of themselves!
I have watched a friend’s daughter from afar. She used to be a shy girl, but now she glows with confidence, talking freely to people I forget to introduce her to and leading my girls in fun activities.
“What happened to the old Stacy?” I asked my friend.
“I have no idea!” said her mom.
I now see the benefits of being a child thanks to having children and being part of other children’s lives. Children are asked all the time to do new things. It’s expected. Think of school, of summer camp, of extracurricular activities, heck, think of growing-up. It’s all a lesson in to-do action.
Don’t get me wrong. My kids still have fears. Annie was terrified to fly on our last vacation. She secured a good luck charm from her aunt. I talked to her about her huge anxiety and told her I would keep her safe. I lied to her. I cannot fly a plane! I am not an airplane mechanic! I so don’t control the weather! But she bought in because it is my job to make her feel safe. She cried with real fright at take-off and during landing, but she let me and her sister hold her, and she quickly moved on from being scared out of her wits to enjoying herself during the rest of the ride. She moved in and out of fear and didn’t let her fear define her.
By definition, as an adult, I am more stuck. I’ve repeated patterns of fear my whole life. But my kids have taught me to jump in and to jump in with full-throttled abandon. KK just started jumping off the high-dive at Green Lake, our local lake that we swim in often. I followed her lead last week, walking up the high dive. Mind you, I don’t like heights. KK used to not like heights, but on Mother’s Day weekend she walked across the Golden Gate Bridge with her Girl Scout Troop and she told me it was awesome. No fear.
So I walked up the high-dive ladder and stopped when I reached the back of the board. Damn. So high. I turned around to go back down. Then I thought, “My kids are watching.” KK was in the water and Annie on the raft below. They were cheering me on. It’s my job to show them confidence, that it is worth facing down your fears while trying new activities. KK fought math tutoring for years, finally signing on this fall. After her first math test with her math tutor on board, she thanked me. That’s doing something new that took so much courage on her part. My jumping off the diving board is an easy way for me to face my fear of heights and do a new thing. I so hate not being super successful at things that I avoid new fun opportunities a lot.
I turned around, took a deep solid breath, and forgot KK’s high-diving advice. She told me to hold my arms straight down. I had no time for conscious thought. I walked quickly, and don’t look down. I stopped at the end of the board, peered at KK in the water below, and took a small hop off the end of the board and into the open summer sky.
I screamed as I fell through the air. My arms flailed and my left arm hit the water with a hard smack. My body rushed toward the bottom of the lake. And then it bounced back up. I gagged and spewed water and my kids cheered. My left arm ached. But I felt fearless and awesome.
I tuck this dive inside my brain, and began thinking of all the new things I can do with my girls. A few days ago we went horseback riding, a first for the girls. I was terrified when I rode a horse in elementary school. I told myself I’d never ride again.
I did ride again, and I did it for the girls. The coolest thing, though, is that I loved horseback riding this time. I felt a real kinship with the horses. I looked into their big eyes and talked to them like they were cute infants. My kids laughed with surprise at this baby talk. By definition I am the person in the family who does not love animals.
When I placed my foot into a stirrup, moved my body up and over the horse, placed the other foot into the other stirrup, and then plopped my butt into the saddle, I couldn’t believe how magical, right, natural, and of-my-body that felt. My fear of horses dropped away into a love of horses. I thought of the lovely Alice Walker line: “Horses make a landscape more beautiful.”
Facing my fears and experiencing new adventures is a beautiful addition to my own landscape, too.