Has your child ever done something so spectacular you wanted to just hug every stranger that happened to be standing by and explain to them that your child is a hero? No? Huh. Only me, I guess. Well, this hug is getting awkward.
This basically happened to me last weekend. I didn’t actually hug every stranger standing nearby, but I did have an internal party when my 4 year old daughter, my super cautious, super sweet, rule follower to the extreme let her inner curiosity, spirit of adventure, and bravery shine through.
We went to Hocking Hills last weekend and hiked a trail that led us to Old Man’s Cave. The scenery was beautiful, the trail wasn’t easy, and we were a big group, my husband and I and our three children plus my husband’s parents. We were quite the crew, and we were loving every second, I even brought my real camera! (You know those machines that capture pictures, but can’t text?)
Near the end of our hike we reached a neat little body of water underneath a small waterfall. My daughter mentioned wanting to walk in the water, it wasn’t very deep and she was awed by the surrounding natural beauty. My mother-in-law was about to kick off her own shoes and help my daughter do the same when I mentioned that there was a sign that said “No Wading.” My mother-in-law thought that was ridiculous and out loud I said I agreed, but internally thanked the powers that be that no one was going to wade in. Have you read the millions of articles about drowning, secondary drowning and dry drowning?!
I explained to my daughter that there was a sign that said no wading in the water. She was disappointed but consoled herself by throwing rocks into the water with her little brother. Then she noticed a fallen tree that was across this tiny body of water and she wanted to cross it like a balance beam. She saw another little boy crossing it and she was inspired.
I don’t know if it was the magic of old man’s cave, the presence of grammie and pops, or the sheer, uninhibited joy that comes with exploring nature and pushing yourself to your physical limits, but my cautious, little rule follower became obsessed with crossing this fallen tree.
Suddenly, all bets were off. I didn’t care about the no wading sign, I didn’t care about my internal anxiety concerning all things safety related. I wanted to help my shy, cautious girl be brave. I explained that if that’s what she wanted she could do it. I showed her the unmarked path she would need to take that went around the body of water, I showed her I would be able to see her the entire time, and if anything happened, I could get to her in a matter of seconds.
She wanted me to go with her, but my gut said she would still go if I didn’t, so I told her part of being brave is being scared. She doesn’t need me, but I’ll be there in a second if she does. Of course that was confusing, but she seemed to understand that I was trying to say something meaningful so she nodded enthusiastically and headed on her way. Her little brother’s spidey-senses detected an adventure and he went galloping after her.
My husband was impressed by our usually shy daughter, surprised by my enthusiasm but also concerned about her safety, so he went on the path behind her, giving her enough space to feel on her own.
When she climbed her way up the unmarked path, and then around a tangle of tree roots, down the hill and along the edge of the water she finally got to the fallen tree. She stopped. Suddenly, she wasn’t thrilled, and honestly, I realized I didn’t want her crossing the fallen tree on her own…or really, at all. But my fearfulness for her safety coincided with my fearfulness that I’m too anxious and it’s rubbing off on her.
My husband stepped up in a big way, well, stepped in rather. Without hesitation he stepped into the water so he could hold our daughter’s hand and give her some encouraging words. Turns out the water by the tree was a lot deeper than we thought and I’m very glad my husband was there because there’s no way she would have crossed the tree without him and there’s no way I would have let her. But she did it! My husband held her hand as she walked across, and she did it! She got to the “big rock,” which was her goal.
I totally became that mom. You know, the one who celebrates the heck out of seemingly minor achievements. The mom who gives her kid a trophy for participating. Listen, if my kiddo scales a personal mountain you better believe I’m gonna celebrate like it was Mount Everest, because for her, it was. Typically, if my daughter is going to do something new, she needs at least 15 minutes to watch, another 15 minutes to ask a lot of questions about it and if you’re lucky, in about two years she’ll maybe try it.
So, as you can imagine, the look on her face as she ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug made me feel all the feels. She’s my kid, y’all, and she just faced a fear head on. I asked her if she was scared and she hesitated before saying “yes.” She said it like it was a bad thing, so I jumped in and explained that you can’t be brave without being scared. Being brave means doing something you’re afraid of even though you’re frightened. She locked her little hand in mine, looked up at me and whispered, “I was super brave.”