Slippery Slope

My youngest son (we’ll call him Fritz) was afraid of pretty much everything – heights, motion, water, you name it. At first I didn’t mind. I figured having a timid, safe child was better than a daredevil child with broken bones. And it seemed like any time he did try something uncharacteristically gutsy, he always got hurt. The first time he tried climbing up furniture, he pulled a bookshelf over on top of him. His first attempt climbing out of his crib, he fell on his head and never tried again. Ever. He would just wait after each nap until we were ready to come get him because the alternative was much too dangerous.

His scaredy-cattedness was quite convenient for me. In public places, he didn’t wander far or try to climb out of shopping carts. And anytime I didn’t feel like doing something, I could use him as an excuse. Someone needed to stay behind with Fritz. Who better than stick-in-the-mud me? This became particularly obvious when our family went to Disneyland and were divided into clear-cut camps of Chickens and Non-Chickens. While the Non-Chickens had a wild and crazy adventure, we Chickens rode the peaceful, boring Little Mermaid ride again and again and again.

In the last year, Fritz and I have talked about this and decided it’s time for him to get over his fears. We’ve worked very hard for him to finally feel comfortable putting his head under water, to learn to ride his bike, and to dare to speak to people he’s just met. He’s been conquering his fears bit by bit and with each new success, he feels even more confident. It’s great because this is what I wanted, right?

Last week they opened the outdoor pool at the rec center, and as I sat reading peacefully, Fritz came over to drip all over my book and to announce that he had just gone down the water slide. The three-story, fast, twisty, no-way-would-he-ever-do-it-in-a-million-years water slide. I was speechless.

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Then he went again. And again. I was so proud until I realized that if he was brave enough to get over his very significant and long-held fears, I would have to do the same. I would have to get off my duff and also go down a waterslide for the first time in who knows how long. I could no longer use Fritz as an excuse to stay comfortable and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

I tried the green slide first because Fritz recommended it. From my recollection of whatever crappy waterslide I last experienced, I was expecting to hurt myself on bumpy seams or suffer from whiplash, but it turns out the slide was really smooth and fast and fun. Like, really fun.

Just like Fritz, I wanted to go right back up and try it again and again. I had forgotten how much I loved waterslides when I was a kid. As Fritz described it: “They’re like roller coasters except less dangerous!”

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Long after I stopped to rest, he kept on sliding. It was almost obsessive the way he kept going back for more and more. It was as if he had seven years of playing it safe to make up for in just one afternoon. As I sat and read, I only saw him as he would hurry past me shouting his current tally: “ELEVEN!” (ten minutes later…) “TWELVE!” He was on fire.

At first I was annoyed that I would now be expected to join in all the activities after years of being the spectator, but then I realized how much I enjoy our family outings now that Fritz can ride his bike or swim on his own. I’ll probably have to keep reminding myself with each new thing he tries that I actually do have fun when I join in. I’ll just have to repeat to myself my own version of the popular motto: “I CAN DO HARD FUN THINGS!”

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