Climbing to Fear and Beyond
Last week I called the instructor at the local Ropes Course. We were set to attend with our homeschool group in a few days, and I realized that although it may be interesting to watch the older kids climb, zip and whirl, it'd be more fun if my two oldest could participate fully.
The answer I got: The harnesses can be fit on very young children. It's more about their personal will and interest.
So, we woke early a few days later, tossed our picnic in the car, and drove as we talked. Pippi Longstocking walking the telephone lines. Circus tight ropes. Climbing trees and fences. And when we arrived to this place at the forests' edge, we spent the next few hours doing some great team-building games.
Now, I say "we" because I at the last minute decided to participate.
My first thought upon hearing about the course: No Way.
My second thought: Maybe I should since my first thought was so fiercely guarded.
So I decided to give it a go. Perhaps I would surpass my fear of heights once and for all. Perhaps.
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The day progressed, the mosquitoes heartily nibbled at our bare arms, and working together, we supported one another on a vertical pull-up. I traveled higher from the ground than I have in over a decade. And it was exciting, exasperating and numbing. I honestly blanked out from vertigo, as I can barely remember what it looked like from way up high. (And silly enough, my brother's a lineman. I think he stole all the climbing-genes in the family.)
Next we watched the other group of kids as they attempted the Redwood Tree and zip line. And I watched my girls as they watched the action, wondering where their personal peaks would take them for the day, as I knew I had reached mine with the vertical pull-up.
It was interesting to see how some kids scurried up the Redwood in seconds while others struggled with placement, trust and movement. And those who made it up always came down zip line style, flying through the forest like a dragonfly darting to its next pool of water. And me, well I decided that my vertigo was and is simply a danger to me.
And then, while we sat there on the forest floor, a four-year-old girl began climbing the ladder. And when she reached the tree, she just kept going. It was the perfect visual reminder of what complete trust in oneself and one's body looks like. It's a beautiful thing. And within minutes she was way up high above our heads getting tied to the zip line. We were all so surprised. Awestruck. Dude, challenge has no limits besides the ones we set. And a moment later she stepped off the platform and went whizzing into the forest. And by the time she was safely climbing down the ladder my oldest was ready to have a turn at the Redwood.
So we set off to the tree, my camera in hand, and my oldest began her climb. And I quickly snapped photos for her to see her success, whatever it may be. And although I trusted her abilities, I fully expected her to climb to the top of the ladder and then right back down. And as she climbed we talked with her gently about the climbing process. Helping her navigate and choose her steps and approach.
But after reaching the top of the ladder, she keeps going. And about half way up the tree she realizes what she's done. She's climbing a tree she's not sure if she can actually climb. And she freaks. And my heart starts thumping really hard. And her Papa's calm composure starts to look a bit worried. We squirm as her panic sets in.
And our worry stems not from her ability or inability to conquer that tree. Our worry stems from the knowledge of fear and what it can wreak on the mind and body. And not just as a mental game. No siree. I'm talking about how fear can literally stop you in your tracks, render you useless and void, and make you tremble. Turn. Lose sight of everything around you.
So as my little girl holds on way above our heads, we all talk with her, giving her options to rappel down, climb down, keep going up. We remind her that she's not alone. That her harness is being supported and she will not fall. And after a few more moments, she chooses up. So up she continues.
But when she gets to the platform base (just a few more difficult feet to go), she starts crying and is very scared, alone, and she's feeling done. Uh oh. Done? Well, that's not gonna be so much fun from this stage. We encourage her to trust herself, but my own fear is so incredibly tangible at this moment I have to literally pick it up and brush it aside to see clearly. She takes a deep breath and carefully looks at her next step. And after a few moments, she finishes the climb and is up top on the tiniest of platforms with the Ropes Course Instructor. And now she remembers that her climb was leading up to the zipline. And a whole 'nother fear sets in. Fear of stepping off that tiny platform. Fear of sailing through the air. Fear of the unknown of it all.
And she cries. She freezes. And does everything I imagine I would do if I were up on a tiny platform with no conceivable plan for getting down except for leaping off with a cord attached and zipping into the forest. Though I do think I would have peed my pants if I were her.
So my baby girl is crying and scared witless up there and a murmur of "Go get her Jeanine. You can do it! Bring her the Rescue Remedy you brought. You can do it!" circulates. I can hear it in my own mind. Darn myself for not being a climber. Never have been. Darn myself for not being a heights-junkie. Definitely not. And I'm attempting to smile, but all I can think is my god people, this is not my forte. This is not my moment. This is not gonna happen. But after a few minutes I think, maybe they're right. Maybe I can. So, I put my helmet back on and approach the ladder. And I'm dreaming of a miracle. Perhaps an elevator? And it's not there. Just a crappy ladder leaned against a huge Redwood tree with my daughter at top crying and calling "Mommy, I need you."
And so I begin my ascent. I, woman-of-no-ladders, climb the ladder. And as I reach the top--I'm frozen. I reach my arm out. Touch the brass ring pounded into the tree's rough bark. And I know that even if I made it onto that one tiny loop, there's no way my body will repeat that twenty times up the goddamn tree. And I take a deep breath. Reach out again. And realize it's just not my time. Yes. I fail to conquer my own fear and I know it. So I climb right back down to solid ground.
And a little friend comes over and whispers for us to yell up to my oldest, "You're awesome!" And a few minutes later, an older friend comes over, declaring, "That's it. I'm going up. Where's the Rescue Remedy? She needs me." And off she goes. She'd tried to make it up to the platform just a half hour earlier and didn't make it. But this time a goal is set. And it's framed as a need. And she's determined. And she does make it. Her friend makes it for the first time ever to the top, in just moments. And she drops that Liquid Calm into my girl's little mouth. And they smile together. And a calm settles in. And at last the decision is made.
And she's amazing!
And we're all calling her name and I'm teary eyed in awe of the power of my child. Of her embodiment of power. Of all children. And we catch her feet after her long trip through the forest and back and forth till she stops. And she's shaking and excited and sobbing and calling for me. And we sit on the forest floor together, her in my arms, both shaking. And I tell her what I saw her do. And as she sits there sobbing, and giggling, and catching her breath again, her older friends try again to climb the tree. And they make it this time, calling to her below. Showing her their successes, their inspiration. And she smiles back at them.
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And one hour later, "Mama, I wanna do it again. I want to."
So we head back over to that ridiculously tall tree. And she steps onto the ladder and does it all over again. With confidence, strength, and with the trust she began to forsake on her first try.
One of the mottos for the Ropes Course is: "Challenge is by choice." And I love it. I love the lack of pressure coupled with the internal desire, strength and choice.
And so she tastes it all over again. Wondering if it'll be different, and knowing she can do it. She will live to tell the story.
And this time, when she steps off the platform she lets go of the zipline and soars no hands! And there are huge tears in my eyes. My chest feels tight with pride. And I'm still shaken up. In a great way. Oh, the power of "I can."
And when all is said and done, we are left with a life-changing afternoon. A memory that is engraved in bold in our family's minds and memories. And I'm left thinking a lot about my own dis-empowerment from my body. And I'm wondering, when did it happen? When did I allow this fear to not only take hold, but to control my abilities? And I can't remember how or when it happened.
But at least I can rest in the knowledge that at minimum I can handle my kids doing some crazy stuff. Crazy, good, mind-blowing stuff.
So, leave me a comment if you will? Are you afraid of heights or a heights-lover?
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