© Stephenie Freeman
originally posted 2007
I’ve never been a particularly adventurous person, choosing instead to play it on the safe side, insuring that risk to life and limb is kept to a bare minimum. I’m the one who will always volunteer to take your picture while you bungee jump or hold your purse while you ride a roller coaster. Guess that’s just the kind of considerate person I am.
But it’s not always popular to be cautious, especially when you’re supposed to be young and fearless. Growing up, I was what all of the brave children called a “scaredy cat.” Cautious and vigilantly fearful, I always warned the other children of the worse-case scenarios and hidden dangers involved in their adventures. I was the child who looked like she wasn’t having any fun, but in reality was happy and content to stay safely where I was.
This all being said, it only stands to reason that I would be an over-protective parent. Oddly enough, however, I am not.
Part of the reason that I am not has to do with having boys. It’s one thing for a girl to be labeled a “scaredy cat,” but for a little boy it’s like the kiss of death. I didn’t want to raise boys who were afraid to do fun things like I was, like jumping from the high dive. I wanted to raise the kind of kids who would not only jump off, but come up for air yelling, “Let’s do it again!”
Like all good parents, I enrolled my oldest in swimming lessons this summer. The group was small; only four children in the entire class, three of which were girls. On the first day of class, the girls jumped into the pool first, doing so with gusto, obviously anxious and excited to learn how to swim all on their own.
Then, it was my son’s turn. He stood on the edge timidly, unwilling to budge. It was only until his instructor held his hands that he jumped into the water, immediately gripping the instructor’s neck as if his life depended on it, which I guess in that moment it did.
My husband and I looked at each other in agreement. Being shown up by a bunch of girls is never a good thing.
Soon, I found myself coaching him as we would drive to his lessons, saying things like, “Why don’t you try to jump into the pool by yourself?” and “Try to let go of the edge and swim like those little girls do.”
All of this coming from a woman who has stayed safely in the shallow end of the pool her whole life.
I guess I prefer to parent under the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy.
I might not be an adventurous person, but I am an adventurous parent. I encourage my kids to climb trees and run around barefoot. I let them to play outside without my hovering over them. I never want them to be afraid to try something new and exciting, like hanging upside down on the monkey bars or swing across a creek on a rope swing. I want them to do things that I was always too afraid to do.
On the final day of swimming lessons, I couldn’t hide my excitement when my son finally agreed to jump off of the diving board all by himself. He climbed up carefully, and as most kids do when they get to the edge of the long platform, he hesitated.
As he looked over at me, I knew what was coming.
“Mama, I don’t wanna do it.”
In that moment, I knew exactly how he felt. How well I know the fear of “what if?” and I’m sure that I was thinking the same things that he was. “What if I drown? What if no one’s there to catch me? What if…?”
Understanding his apprehension, I could have easily walked over and helped him down.
Instead, I simply yelled back, “Don’t worry, Buddy! You’ll be fine. Trust me.”
And unlike his mother, he took a chance…and jumped.