Discover more from Love Letters by Laura Leigh Bean
On fear, squirrels, motherhood and paddle tennis
Photo by Luismi Sánchez via Unsplash
I'm listening to Michelle Obama's latest, The Light We Carry on Audible.
In addressing fear, she talks about how children's visceral reactions to things that they deem scary often feel irrational to us grown-ups.
As a mother who's child sobbed hysterically at the mere sight of the squirrel in Ice Age (and who still has not forgiven his mother yet for introducing him to DAT SUPASCARY SQUIRREL, over a year later), I relate.
But then Michelle points out: "avoidance is the adult's equivalent of a child's shriek."
Mic drop, right?
All humans have innate, biological reactions to things that are new, unfamiliar, untested. Our pulses quicken, our breathing becomes shallow, and we quickly attempt to assess: is this safe? Should I run away?
Kids play out this process out loud (really loud, if you're in my house): they scream, they cry, they refuse to move or they literally run in the opposite direction.
But eventually, we grow up. And along the way, we gain both the skills to better assess what constitutes a real threat, and also the recognition that adults who scream in public are generally locked up.
We learn to push fear down deep.
And I was thinking that our children are constantly addressing new, unfamiliar scenarios and having to navigate that fear response. Daily, if not hourly. Everything when you're a kid is brand new. It must be so exhausting.
Adults, however, have the luxury of avoiding things that scare us. Does the thought of putting yourself out there to take a new class or ask for a promotion give you butterflies and make your palms sweaty? There's an unfortunately simple solution: don't do it.
And while sometimes we muster up the courage, I'd argue that more often than not, us grown-ups choose the status quo over the unknown.
For whatever reason, this comparison between the fear my children face daily and how I move about my own life was a big light bulb moment for me for a few reasons.
Both of my kids tend to have big, emotional reactions to trying or starting something new, like activities, sports, school, etc. For some things, like school, we push through despite how wearing their emotional reactions, which often go on for months, are for both the kids and for parents.
In other situations, though, like "fun" activities, we find it harder to know the right thing to do: should we let them quit, and if we do are we doing them a disservice? Do they need to learn to face their fears, develop courage and trust, or should we not insist that they face *unnecessary* fears (i.e. a tiny tots football class without mom in the room) because they're 3 and who cares?
Considering all of this does not give me a black and white answer to that question. But it does give me a healthy dose of empathy for what our kids face every day, exploring the world around them, which as we all know is both heartbreakingly beautiful and downright terrifying.
It's not easy to be a kid.
So the next time one of my boys freaks out about trying something new (i.e. later today, tomorrow, and the day after that...) I think I'll be able to approach it with a little more understanding. Thanks, Michelle.
But then, like the good elder millennial that I am, I started thinking about myself. I'm not NOT wimpy when it comes to trying new things these days, if I'm being honest.
And here's what I decided. I can let my brave boys inspire me to do the things that I find scary.
If my kiddos can come out smiling 3 hours after I've shoved them, sobbing, into the door of a building (that I know is safe and ultimately good for them) that they don't want to enter because they'd rather stay in the comfort and safety of home: I can do hard things too.
I can continue putting my art and writing into the world, even on topics that seem "out there" for me, and even though I want to throw up every time.
I can continue trying to build our community here in our new town and meeting new friends face to face, even though it's just so tempting to stay home and not deal with the nerves of meeting new people.
And I can try totally new things, that I will likely suck at at first, and will likely be highly embarrassing. (Hi, paddle tennis.)
As humans, we are guaranteed to face fears big and small, rational and not, for the rest of our lives.
As moms, we can have empathy for our kids and the sheer volume of new and "scary" things they face every day. They probably don't need to hear my well-intentioned "don't worry" or "it's okay." Maybe they just need to hear me say: "I get it. It is scary, and that is hard. I get scared too."
And as individuals, we can recognize that while fear is a part of the blessing of existence, we can find our own tools (the same ones that we give our kids, by the way: three deep breaths!) to help us move past our own fear and find richer, more fulfilling lives. Paddle tennis, here I come.
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