I’m 50 feet off the ground and I’m coaxing my six-year-old to take a step off the first platform in an aerial ropes course. We’re harnessed into a writhing metal feat of engineering and the risk to her safety is minimal. And yet, she will not budge.
The catch: she’s done this before. Months ago, we took our girls to an indoor aerial ropes course twice the size of this one. She rode a zip line 200 feet long. She only balked as she started to get tired when we were at the highest and furthest point from where we began 60 feet up in the air. It was much higher and far riskier than the lovely attraction we stood atop.
She refuses to listen to reason. I remind her of the last ropes course earlier in the year and she insists that this ropes course is different. We start blocking traffic and I am figuratively flailing, but as I start to give up, the attendant swoops in and helps her across the first bridge. Rather than get to climbing, she announces she’s done and would like to get down.
So she does and I feel deflated.
The day before I am four stories off the ground, reasoning with my eight year old to go down a water slide. She has convinced herself she can do it and has climbed up four giant flights of stairs. It’s humid and loud and the color drains from her face as she realizes what she has to do to get back to the bottom.
As the line winds down and she is finally the next one to take the plunge, she refuses to do it. I urge her to accompany me but she will not move, her eyes filled with tears. I coax quietly and then loudly insist she come with me.
The catch: she’s done this before. During the last month of the summer, we took the girls to a local water park and both girls tried out water slides. They were super brave and they had a great time. I know she will love this slide–it’s just the right level of thrill for her.
But instead I walk down the stairs with her. She knows I am angry and I am also a little embarrassed at how hard I pushed her.
Weeks later we’re riding in the car and for the umpteenth time, my oldest belts out her favorite song on the radio, her voice clear and strong. And for the umpteenth time I tell her how much I love hearing her voice. And then I pause and gently suggest she consider singing in a choir. And she politely tells me no.
The catch: she’s done this before. She was in a dance class of two and her recital was essentially one big solo. And at the end of the summer, she joined the neighborhood kids in a backyard musical where she sang solo, too. She’s no shrinking violet and yet faced with the prospect of showing her stuff, she panics.
My girls are strong, except when they’re scared. They’re bold, except when they’re nervous. And when I know they can handle something, I am never quite sure if I should push or pull. I resist pushing until I can no longer stand it and then I try to push and they resist.
And then I worry that it will always feel like this. I’ll feel on the edge of how far to go, how much to support, when the take the brakes off, when to perch them on the edge of the nest, and when to walk away. We know that we’re coddling a generation of children and yet we fire up the helicopter blades because hovering feels safer. They are the most precious things, except they are stronger than we think.
And then I remind myself that it will always be like this. And they will grow and change and so will I. And I’ll worry less and worry more simultaneously. And I’ll lament every choice I made and stand by those choices. Because there is no playbook, no rules, no right way. But in these discrete moments where it feels so black and white, I constantly wonder whether we’ve mucked it all up.
I’m standing at the base of the mountain, craning my neck to see people as they reach to final crest of this slope. I’m looking for a pink jacket and blue pants and no matter how hard I try, distinguishing one child from the next is pretty much impossible. Everyone looks the same from far away. I have been waiting for about ten minutes or so and with every passing second, my heart beats faster. It is both breathtaking and horrifying watching people fly past me as they end their run.
Eventually I think I find their little figures mixed in with the throng of people pouring over the ridge and there they are: two girls with their father huddle together before coming down the last stretch, ending their descent. My heart races as I see my kiddos on skis glide down the side of the mountain, picking up speed and sliding faster and faster towards the lift line. My eyes lock on one girl and then the other, and as their figures grow into view I am amazed.
I am breathless. I watch them expertly maneuver the last stretch of their run. I can hardly believe how quickly their little bodies move. Skiing is one thing I can’t do, so I am determined that they will. Here they are, two strong little girls. No pushing necessary.
I am smiling. My smile covers my entire face. As they slow down to meet me, I gush over how amazing they looked and how strong they are and how proud I am and I ask if they’re ready to come in. They’ve been out far longer than I expected with their father. And they offer the only reply two strong little girls give when their mother tries to pull them in,
“One more run, mommy. One more run.”
No catch. Just release.