"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
Yesterday I took Jack to a ropes course in the nearby scary amusement park. The climbing section of the park is called Mowgli Park (after the Jungle Book character). It has courses for people of all ages, from a low course for little kids to what look like fairly challenging adult courses. Jack went once before with our nanny and our Swedish friend and his two little girls, but after getting suited up in his harness and making it across one obstacle, Jack planted his feet and decided he would go no further.
This time, I wasn't going to push him. We waited for the other kids (three very brave six-year-olds) to do the course and then, just as we were getting ready to leave, Jack asked to be fitted in his "roper doper," which I took to mean "harness." The other kids all decided they wanted to do the low course too, so Jack was inserted into the roper doper and away we went. Fortunately, one of my other friends' husband, who happens to be ridiculously tall, agreed to help me get Jackie across.
Jack gamely walked across the first obstacle, took one look at the second obstacle (hanging loops of rope), and started to cry.
Side note: Jack has always had a mild fear of heights. He's never been the kid to go running up to the slide at the playground. He generally requires a little help and then once he's done it a time or two, he's fine. But when we were in Switzerland, we found a jungle gym that Jack was absolutely terrified of. I ended up having to climb up it with him, then take him across a rope net, which I'll be honest didn't make me feel too fabulous either (he definitely inherited his fear of heights from me). But eventually we made it across, together.
Yesterday, I was ready to give up on the ropes course. I could feel the eyes of other parents on me, wondering why I was pushing my terrified child into doing something he clearly didn't want to do. But then, a few minutes later, a fly buzzed past Jack's ear while I was holding him. "I don't like bugs!" he cried, flapping madly at the fly. Holy crap, I thought. This kid sure has a lot of phobias for a three-year-old. And I know from personal experience that the only way to conquer a fear is to face it head on.
So we took Jack on a little tour from obstacle to obstacle, looking for one Jack would try. We finally found a suitable obstacle in a rope bridge, and my friend's husband took Jack across twice. It was so great to watch his confidence grow each time, until eventually he was able to do it by himself.
After that, Jack tried three more obstacles, gaining confidence as he went. I should note that he was the youngest kid on the course, and even though the obstacles were no more than five feet off the ground, it took a lot of guts (and a bribe of ice cream) to get through the experience. It reminded me of my own struggle to get across the balance beam as a little kid, when I had to recite "I think I can, I think I can," over and over to get across. I couldn't have been more than six, but I still remember the pride I felt when I finally made it. That was the look Jack had on his face yesterday.
I often worry that Jack didn't just inherit my fear of heights: I worry he got my insecurity, my lack of self-confidence, which held me back so much when I was younger. I fully expect him to have his own fears and insecurities over the years, but my hope is that he has the confidence to overcome those fears, that his brave little spirit continues to thrive, and that no matter what, he knows I'll always be there for him. Every step of the way.