Saturday, May 18, 2019

Facing Your Fears

Less than 24 hours after learning that Ren's rods are broken, I left for camp where I spent three days and two nights as a chaperone for Pink's fifth-grade trip. When Sky was in fifth grade, I went to the same camp to support him through all of the excitement (and transitions and potentially overstimulating surprises) of life in the woods, so I knew what to expect. Still, even before our visit to the spine doctor, my anxiety about going on the same trip with Pink slowly inched skyward.

Sunset at Camp
Then we had the appointment and got the news and I stumbled through the rest of that day and woke up the next morning having not packed or prepared for the trip in any way. In the 2 1/2 hours I had before it was time to go, I threw things into a bag, got Stow and Sky fed and out the door (which wasn't easy since when Stow realized Pink and I would be gone, he proceeded to have a pretty spectacular meltdown), wrote the last blog post (coping strategy!), and rushed out the door.

To say I wasn't in the right headspace to deal with a group of excited preteens is an understatement. It took a lot of energy to stay present with the kids and the other parents; I really just wanted to sit and stare at the wall. But, since I was one of four parents responsible for getting a group of sixteen kids through a bevy of activities spread throughout the sprawling campground, I didn't have much time to sit and stare into space. Heck, if it wasn't for the other three parents, I might not have even had time to use the restroom. 

I can only hope my attitude wasn't as bad as how I felt. I tried to take breaks from the chaos where I could, especially when I felt least able to be my best self with the kids. Of course, the kids pushed our patience pretty consistently, and by the end of the first day, I wasn't sure I'd make it through two more days. 

But, then something amazing started to happen. We started to see kids facing and overcoming various challenges and fears. The boy deathly afraid of snakes touched the back of a python. The girl who'd never slept away from home before made it through the night without calling home. The boy disgusted by leeches discovered he was fascinated by how they swim. The girl afraid of heights stepped out onto the beam thirty feet off the ground and the managed to walk across to the other side. 

Pink discovered her greatest challenge at one of the first activities our group did--the high ropes course. Along with her classmates, she got strapped into a climbing harness and put on a helmet, and (following thorough instructions) prepared to climb up onto the ropes. But, a few steps up the climbing pole, she froze. Despite all of her confidence, she couldn't will herself to climb all the way to the top, and by the end of the hour, after multiple tries, she only managed to make it two-thirds of the way.

Halfway up the High Ropes
Her inability to get up on the ropes made Pink worry that she wouldn't be able to manage the big event at camp, a zipline that starts from a tower five stories above the ground. The students hear from their teachers and siblings and older friends that the zipline is amazing and that they will regret it if they don't try it. After she struggled on the high ropes, Pink repeatedly asked me if I would climb the tower and/or zipline with her. I ziplined with Sky three years ago, so I knew the tower swayed in the wind and that the last step is up onto a small step that's probably not even a foot square. This is a kid who still sometimes asks me to hold her hand to calm her nerves on narrow, steep steps, so I wasn't sure she'd be able to do it. As we walked together to the top of the tower, she had tears in her eyes. But, she didn't stop. When it was her time to walk out onto the platform, she did it, and when the instructor shouted "3! 2! 1!" she glanced at me over her shoulder and then took off without hesitation. 

Pink, Flying
A boy in Pink's group named Ryan never made it to the high ropes. He never got to the top of the zipline tower. But, gosh, did he try. He went from adamantly insisting that he would never put on a harness and helmet to wearing them and taking a few giant steps up the high ropes climbing pole. And, even though he was too scared to walk up the zipline tower with his classmates, he didn't stop pushing himself. On my way down the steps to check on kids who had already "zipped," I found him clinging to the rail three flights up. Despite his intense fear, he'd gotten there on his own, going at his own pace. Twice he descended the steps only to convince himself to climb them again. By then every kid on his team was cheering him from the ground. Unfortunately, time ran out before Ryan could reach the top, but he never gave up.

Ryan facing his fears on his own terms.
I was proud of all the kids for the ways they faced their fears and tried new things, but most of all, I was proud of the way Ryan never stopped trying to do just a little better and to go just a little farther despite the fact he was absolutely terrified.

Even though we received soul-crushing, scary news this week, three days in the woods with a bunch of kids reminded me that life goes on and that all any of us can ever do is what Ryan did--steadily and determinedly put one foot in front of the other to face our fears head on.

No comments: