Life is all about failures and triumphs. Hopefully, we learn from our missteps as well as our accomplishments. As we age, they both grow in seriousness.
The greatest achievement, I believe, is overcoming fear. For adults, those terrors often include not being able to pay the bills, allowing something bad to befall a loved one, or spiders. To children, the greatest fear can be something as simple as a waterslide. My son can attest to that.
Have you ever watched irrational panic wash over a child’s face, draining its color just before the emotions boil over in an eruption of tears and high-pitched screams? It seems ridiculous to those of us who have “real” problems that something so inconsequential could cause such hysteria. As a parent, I often find myself asking “What’s the big deal?” I must remind myself that, to a child, that waterslide, or whatever fear-inducing item it may be, is at that moment the biggest thing that has happened in his or her life.
On Tuesday, my wife and I surprised our children with an impromptu visit to Palm Island Indoor Water Park in Batavia. We had wanted to try it for a while, since the next closest park is in Erie, Pa., and both of our children are part-fish. Our son, Alexander, is especially drawn to water. But being separated from his parents terrifies him, and he isn’t overly fond of the dark. I’m sure you can imagine how an enclosed waterslide might give him pause.
For half an hour, Alexander repeatedly climbed to the top of the slide, peered down the dark shaft, as if tentatively looking over a cliff into the dark abyss, only to shake his head. “No.” His immense desire to ride a wave down the orange and green tube succumbed to trepidation.
Despite our coaxing and reassurances, he couldn’t take the plunge. To lessen his anxiety, I slid with him, knowingly breaking the “one at a time” rule painted above the slide’s entrance. I repeated my fatherly refrain “Nothing bad will happen to you as long as Daddy is here.” He loved it. But not enough to want to try it himself. No, he wanted Daddy to ride with him again. He had found a loophole that would allow him to escape confronting his fear.
Dismay sunk in for the 3-year-old when I refused to repeat our tandem slide. Finally, he piled on enough courage to ride alone. He hated it. Alexander ran from the pool, crying and screaming through the scrunched-up face that signifies true loathing. But something happened as he sat in a lounge chair, wrapped in his Dusty Crophopper towel. I imagine he realized no bad had met him, that the abyss was not worthy of such fret. Then came the smile. Then came the sprint back to the pool and an admonishment from a lifeguard to slow down. Then came the slide.
The next half hour passed in a replay of Alexander climbing the stairs, sitting at the edge of the tube, then sliding down to the bottom. Climb, sit, slide. Climb, sit, slide. Climb, sit, slide. Occasionally, he would pause long enough to look down and yell “Watch me, Daddy.”
He didn’t realize that I had been watching all along, willing him to discover that he possessed the fortitude to defeat the demon he had built up in his mind. For a brief moment, he embraced worry and doubt, only to see them melt in the warmth of confidence.
And I couldn’t be prouder.