Live with less Fear: A lesson from my toddler

 holdenLast Easter weekend was a rarity in our household: it was beautiful weather AND we were all home with time to spare. We fit in as much play time and as many household tasks as was simultaneously possible. Saturday morning I played with the kids while my husband got the ladder out so he could climb onto the roof. He had to check something up there; I’m a little fuzzy on the details. (I have found sometimes it’s better for me to just say “ok honey” than open a long conversation about specifics.)
So there we were – my oldest playing soccer, my youngest running after him and my other half crawling around on the roof inspecting stuff. The ladder stood leaning against the house. Suddenly my 14 month old ceased his big brother stalking and make a beeline straight for said ladder. With wide eyes, a gleeful smile on his face and incoherent toddler babble coming from his mouth, he went straight to that ladder and tried to climb it. Not a moment of hesitation slowed him down. We all laughed because he has such a high estimation of his own abilities; he’s only been walking for 2 months yet sauntered over to that ladder like it was no obstacle. We all giggled and I tried to distract him. He was undeterred and tried again and again until I snapped a picture for posterity and relocated playtime to the front yard. He grunted at me, shrugged his shoulders and then found something new (and also somewhat dangerous) to occupy his interest.
Later that evening when I came across that picture I took pause. There was the tall ladder and little chubby hands gripping metal, but not a trace of uncertainty on his face. The image resonated in my mind and I began to think. How many ‘ladders’ had I backed away from? How many times in life did I retreat from a challenge because I was worried about failing/losing/falling short?
As long as I can remember I have loved to write. In childhood I had big plans to pursue writing or somehow incorporate it into my life.  But young adulthood presented challenges and I fell short of a college degree. I let the resulting injury of confidence sideline me, and I relegated thoughts of writing to the back burner, to daydream territory. I was afraid to even try, so I didn’t.
Even simpler, I remember teaching my oldest to use the monkey bars. I recall how I nervously glanced around the playground in hopes no one was watching. I didn’t want to look awkward to an audience if I fell down. How silly is it that I would worry about looking foolish on a PLAYGROUND? In the years since childhood it seems carefree abandon has been replaced with sensible and somewhat neurotic caution.
But my little nugget of a toddler bounds forth doggedly, with no worry of impressing others. He charges towards what he wants and tries to grab it, not considering that it may be out of his grasp or ability. He goes around or under anyone who tries to get in his way. He literally claps for himself if he succeeds. And if it doesn’t work out he grunts and moves on, quickly redirecting his energy elsewhere. There is very little moping and certainly no self-loathing for perceived failure. I doubt it would occur to him to drown his sorrows in ice cream for days after a setback like I have some adults have been known to do.
Of course it is necessary to exercise some caution in life – if he had gotten up that ladder disastrous and tragic consequences would have no doubt ensued. So yes, we must certainly use our knowledge of physics and common sense. We should bounce ideas off of our trusted posse of fellow ‘responsible grown-ups.’ But maybe what we see as our limitations are really just reflections of our own fears and hang-ups. I am certainly able to swing on monkey bars; it was my fear of looking silly that held me back. I am able to write SOMETHING; it was my fear of failure that kept me from even trying. If I were to attempt things more often perhaps I would be amazed. Will I write the next great American novel or become an awesome athlete? Doubtful. But I just may write something meaningful to myself, and I may have an awesome time playing with my kid. That sounds better than wondering what might have been.
As parents we are charged with keeping our children safe and it is imperative that we do so. But hopefully in turn they can keep us a little less safe – a little bit out of our own comfort zones. If we pay attention, their optimism is inspiring and can encourage bravery. I certainly hope to be a little braver myself and to consider taking a chance or two more often. One thing I know is this: I’ll never see the view from the top if I don’t try to climb the ladder.
 
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