Sometimes it’s hard to know just how much of a protective shell you have put around yourself. For years, I’ve avoided things that gave me anxiety or felt a bit uncomfortable. Simple things. Like going on a ride at an amusement park that maybe looked a little scary, even watching movies just a tad on the creepy side. Anything out-of-control had always been something that didn’t sit within my highly walled comfort zone. It started when I was a kid and has carried on way too far into adulthood. That is until a few years ago, when my son turned from baby to adventurous boy who wanted to try things like swimming in the deep end of the pool. You know, the kind of activities that make a mother put on a brave face to hide the panic going crazy on the inside.
Watching him take delight in things that gave me great discomfort became a bit surreal. Until it occurred to me, I was missing out on some important experiences and had a choice to make. Either sit back and watch him live his life from my own protected, comfortable seat or get over it and create some fun memories together. I decided to try the latter.
Last winter we decided to let our son try snowtubing. The hill was steep, and the glistening ice was rubbed smooth making for an even faster ride. At the bottom of the hill, a bonfire surrounded by logs for sitting looked inviting, almost cozy. Many of the logs were filled by parents patiently watching while their kids did their thing. It looked like a pretty decent option. Until my son hollered that I was slowing him up and to get my innertube. Yes, sometimes I am bossed around by a tiny man in the single digit age group.
As I held the innertube and rode the conveyor beltway pulling tubers to the top of the hill, the anxiety built in my chest. It increased with every swiftly passing inner-tuber sliding, screaming, laughing as they whooshed down the hill. Immediately, I began to dread the decision to go and planned my escape route. Walk back down? I scoped out the path. Pretend I forgot something? What would that be? Just call it? Yep, I’m a big fat chicken.
The ride on the conveyor belt ended and we grabbed our innertubes, taking our place in the line to wait for our turn to go. I held back, about to announce my escape but then realized that my young son had made his way to the front of the line and was about to plummet his little body down this cliff of ice in pure joy. As I made sure he was gripping the handles (for dear life) and worst-case scenarios of his body flipping off the tube filled by mind, the whistle blew, and he was off. For a moment, my heart and time stopped. Until I realized, that I now was next in line. Crap.
The panic felt like a dead-weight pressing hard on my chest. Reluctantly I sat on the tube, an eye keeping a bead on my son now off the tube and jumping around ecstatically from the thrill he had just experienced. I felt my body sit inside the tube, my hands gripping its handles as if my life depended on it. Let’s be honest, it did. The whistle blew and my tube began its descent, picking up speed at every passing nano-second. Then it began to spin and pick up speed. I could hear myself screaming, the screams floating above my head. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the hill. The tube spinning slower and eventually coming to a stop.
I breathed. And then realized, I did it. But instead of a fist-bump, or a way to go, I got a “come on!” Apparently, I’m holding him up from another run down the hill of my anxiety zone. But inside, I had broken the shell. And it felt good.