Growing up all I ever heard my mother say was that if I ever attempted something new or different it would lead to my death. No, I’m not kidding! I heard the message loud and clear—living was not an option because it would surely lead to death. All aspects of her parenting were smothered in fear, something that has hounded my sisters and I all of our lives. So of course, I am determined to rear my girls without fear. I don’t want to limit my girls with my fear.
I don’t push the girls into anything, but I don’t discourage them when they decide that they want to explore something. Sometimes their wish is conventional and sometimes it’s not: ice-skating, karate, dance, the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios and in Aruba, it was parasailing! Yes, from the beach the girls saw someone parasailing. Both of the girls decided that they wanted to do it. They are seven and wanted to parasail!
My first coherent thought was that it was not going to happen. Too dangerous! Holy cow! And, then slowly, the panic abated and I began to recall the morbidity and mortality tables I used to read so regularly. Children 5 to 14 are more likely to die of accidents (parasailing is not one of them), cancer, and congenital malformations. It hit me then that the only obstacle was my own fear. I am hydrophobic, acrophobic and claustrophobic.
Parasailing covered two out of three. We can give my mother the benefit of the doubt, and argue that this tendency towards fear was my natural inclination, but the truth is that she does get credit for my incredible anxiety every time I am faced with something new. What is much worse: my anxiety only grows in proportion to my determination to face my fear. This is the way I have accomplished everything of value in my life: force myself to push through, making myself sick through the process but just doing it anyway!
There was one saving grace in all of this! Parasailing with children requires them to go up in tandem with an adult. Baby A, more cautious, had requested to go up with dad. Baby B, always so ready to live life to the fullest, had requested that we go together. I knew her daring enthusiasm would make it easier on me to go up.
The night before, I was sick with fear and furious at my husband because he did not dissuade the girls (enough) when they first came up with the idea of parasailing. Why hadn’t he said that we couldn’t afford it? He could have told them that they were too young! Damn him, I thought, even though I knew it was my fear speaking.
The next morning I marched towards our adventure not too pleased. My anxiety was so bad that I could feel my heart beating out of its chest, but I smiled reassuringly to the girls as we got on the boat. And then it happened. Midway to the spot where we would be getting in the swing, Baby A balked. She didn’t want to do it after all. I couldn’t help but feel instant relief as pictures of freak accidents dance in my mind, thinking to myself that no matter how safe these adventurous activities may seem there is an inherent risk associated with the thrill. And then I see Baby B’s face, filled with uncertainty, fear. Perhaps that moment would determine how she dealt with the rest of her life. No, damn it, decisions should not be made out of fear!
I inhaled and smiled, conquering my own fear, and told Baby A that I was afraid too so we should go up together. She was unsure so I said, “Come on, you and me.” She nodded and agreed to it when I told her that we would go up first so we didn’t have to think about it. So, we got ready and up we went!
Going up was unnerving, but believe it or not, it was easier than going on a roller-coaster ride. We went in the early morning so the wind was strong enough to pull us up but not violent at all. We glided, watching sea turtles through the clear Aruban water, and enjoyed the view. Baby A screamed with joy, laughing and pointing and the sites. She was utterly happy, screaming joyfully, and didn’t have a concern until it was time to go down. It wasn’t the descent itself but the fact that the boat had to maneuver so we could land on it. I assured her that the crew knew what they were doing, and we would be fine. We were! It was a very easy and smooth transition. She was thrilled with the adventure as we watched dad and Baby B go up.
It is unlikely that we will become a family of daredevils. I fully realize that at some point or another I may have to deny their request. There is also no question in my mind that Baby A will always be cautious. And, Baby B will always be adventurous. They have natural inclinations that they will follow, but one thing is for certain, their choices will not be determined by fears purposely instilled by their parents.