There’s no denying it: I am a worry wort. I have been my entire life. From big to little reasons, I am queen of letting my fears spiral into a rabbit hole. However, HOWEVER— recurring equally as often as my shpilkes is my strong as shit, tough as nails, warrior-like spirit. The two sides of me- the scared vs. the brave live side by side, hand in hand and somehow manage to live happily ever after together. Here’s an example….

Last weekend, while away for a girls weekend to celebrate my BFF’s bday, I had a massive headache (3 vodka’s in 95 degree weather will do that). Not loaded with my own Advil, I had to gasp, borrow some from my friend. Out of her purse, she pulled a few mismatched pills. Two had IB written on them (but they were green and big), and the others had no names and were white. One of the pills she said had codeine- she thinks- and the other one, with IB written on it, I should just take.

If you were a betting person, based on the fact that I don’t feel 100% comfortable taking Advil with even a diet coke, do you think I took any of her pills? UM, no. Instead I went digging through my other friend’s purse until I stumbled on good old Advil with clearly written letters. Like I want to go out OD-ing on generic Motrin because they didn’t sit well with the Dorritos I had at lunch??? Please. I’m not taking risks like that. No way.
CUT TO: Driving home from Palm Springs. I’m alone in my new car. There is a strip of freeway outside PS that is known to be windy. Well, of course, while I was driving, it was not only super windy, but there was like a mini dust storm too. Hands gripped like I was a student driver, my heart raced. Look, I realize I wasn’t braving Hurricane Katrina, but as I felt my car getting tossed slightly from side to side, I had no choice but to bare down and be brave. I had to keep driving. I had to keep going. I had no choice. I was going to have to drive through my nervousness, figuratively and literally.
But how do you teach children how to do this? How do you teach children to face their fears, get through something scary, even if they don’t want to (and you can’t bear to watch them worry)? Instinctively, I want to quell any and every ounce of fear my child has from big to small, from witches and dragons to bad tasting green veggies- If I could I’d slay them all and he’d never have to worry about anything in life EVER. Except how to rid himself of the mommy issues he’ll have as an adult for the very reason I write this post… But I digress…
This past week, Jonah took a swim intensive. I’d call it a class, but honestly, it’s more like boot camp for swimming. Within one week, the children, who are all beginners at swim are pretty much swimming and able to hold their breath under water. I knew going in to it that all the children cry for at least the first 3.5 days and some for the entire time. I also knew that though the teacher was reassuring, calm and kind to the children, that NOT swimming was not an option and parents should sit back and watch while he does his magic, tears and all. I knew that this methodology to teach swim was polar opposite to my clearly-my-kid-rules-the-roost methodology, BUT STILL — I don’t think I was prepared for how hard it would be to watch my child sit (or swim, rather) with his own fear. I knew he was safe and I even knew he would walk away knowing how to swim. BUT how do you teach a 3.5 year old that sometimes it’s okay to be scared, really scared, and in the end you come out stronger….?
How do you teach a 3.5 year old that fear leads to bravery and strength? I considered telling him about the time I backpacked through Europe for 10 days by myself (not by choice), or the time I had to identify a mugger in a police lineup, or the time I got an epidural at 7cm because I was too scared to get one earlier… But this might be a bit more to chew than a 30 lb human can handle, so I figured I’d keep it simple, and just told him: “I know you’re scared. Being scared is okay sometimes. I would never do anything that would hurt you. You are learning something very important for your life. We’re going to finish this class.”
At the very last class, day 5, he did not cry and did not beg me to take him out of the pool. Instead, he was begging the teacher to take a turn, go under water, jump off the side, and SWIM. It was incredible. I still feel unsure whether this class was right for him and for me, for that matter, but I know we both came out stronger.


FILED UNDER: A Little Life

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  1. Tuesday, June 14th, 2011
    I think you answered your own question. I think you put them in situations that are safe, but scary for them and you support, but don't save.

    Leading by example and talking about how scared you have been are also probably good, but I know my children basically shut down every time I have a story to tell that lasts more than 3 minutes and doesn't include an animal. :)
  2. Anonymous
    Thursday, June 16th, 2011
    It was an amazing experience and I am so glad to have shared it with you!! xoxox goli
  3. Thursday, June 16th, 2011
    My son is very much a crier - he doesn't want to do anything he isn't the best at and will quit or say he can't or that he's scared even when it is something he's done before without problem. I've been trying to work with him on what bravery means - that it means doing something even when you are scared, and also the fact that sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do. And I emphasize that I wouldn't put him into any situation where he wasn't safe and couldn't succeed with a little effort. But sometimes it's so hard to tell if I'm getting through. this mom thing is hard, yo
  4. Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
    This is one of the hardest things I've encountered in parenting...when to let go and let them fly on their own. I'm such a neurotic mess that happens almost never, but I need to learn to do it more often. We did a swim intensive recently too and my heart almost broke when she screamed "Mommy" over and over. But she made it, and I made it. Proud of you and J for getting to the other side too (in both situation) ;)