This summer, on a family camping trip, we had a close call with disaster. My youngest son could have drowned. He swam out to retrieve a ball – which was within a few feet from shore.
By the time he argued with his brother about who should go, the ball had drifted a bit farther away, around the corner. As a result, we couldn’t see him. Despite being a strong swimmer, he got cold and started to panic. Our oldest son courageously swam out to him, but was not experienced enough to support him to swim back to shore. Fortunately, another family was there and the dad jumped in and pulled our son to shore. It was a horrible scare, and a good reminder to always be vigilant – and to always try to consider “you don’t know – what you don’t know.” In this case, the sudden change in water depth around the corner with a drop in water temperature.
“The true meaning of courage is to be afraid, and then, with your knees knocking and your heart racing, to step out anyway” – Oprah
Fast forward to about a month later. I took him and his two friends to Sylvan Lake, where we were going to play on a Wibit floating obstacle course. Unfortunately, the day was cool. The air temp was the same as the water temp, 17 degrees C (62F). The three boys jumped in the water, wearing life jackets, to swim the moderate distance to the course. I was close behind, secretly wondering what the heck I was doing. I didn’t want to jump in that cold water!
He hit the water, and panicked. “I feel like my throat is closing”, he wailed, and scrambled back onto the dock. He started to cry, as we sat side by side. I hugged him and told him I wasn’t going to make him do anything terrifying (panic zone). Dejected and embarrassed, he watched his two friends get to the obstacle course and wave.
We talked about the lifeguards on duty, and brainstormed the worst case scenarios. I pointed out that with lifeguards on duty, and wearing a life-jacket, he wouldn’t drown. He might get cold, but I would stay by his side to help if he needed. I asked him how badly he wanted to to do the obstacle course. How would he would feel tonight if he didn’t try? Reassuring him that it was normal for his body and brain to tell him this was a dangerous situation, because of his past experience. Rationalizing that he could turn around at any time and come back, and breaking the trip down into small chunks helped ease his stress. I tried to push him out of his comfort zone without making him panic.
I think you can guess what happened. He plucked up his courage, and jumped in. I swam next to him between each floating platform on the way to the obstacle course, and he triumphantly jumped onto the Wibit and found his friends.
When he first jumped out of the water in fear, I heard a little voice in my head exclaim “thank goodness!!! Part of me was glad, because I didn’t want to get in the cold water. This little voice was relieved to sit on the shore and relax – dry and warm. There weren’t many parents (or even kids!) going out to the course that day. It was cold. I also knew, from experience, that it was hard to get back on the Wibit if you fell into the water. My little voice screamed to just let him give up and sit it out. Gazing at my son, sitting in misery, I knew that I had to follow his lead.
I think you can guess what happened. Determined to make it across, he told himself he would just get to the first platform. I had no choice, I screwed up my own courage and jumped in. After the initial shock of the cold water, I got used to the temperature (or I went numb, same-same). I climbed up the rope without falling, leapt off the tower and launched a few little kids high in the air on the bouncy pillow. I had a blast. And, no doubt, burned a few calories in the process.
We all complained about not being able to feel our pinky toes at the end. We happily chatted about our adventure over ice cream. I guess we weren’t that cold!
In the end, my son was able to courageously conquer his fears, with some support, which is how he will continue to build resilience. I was able to ignore my “no fun” voice and take a leap to enjoy an amazing bonding experience with my son.
Have you ever heard your “no fun” voice and ignored it? I would love to know what happened and how you felt afterwards. Have you ever regretted making a courageous step?