“You lied to me! You lied!” Little Boy K hung his head, his cheeks flaming from frustration and anger, his hands balled in fists, swinging at his sides. His words were like fingernails scraping at my heart.
I chased after him, reaching for his hand, desperately trying to explain that I hadn’t lied. Lying is intentionally deceiving someone and I would never do that. Lying is bad. Mommys do not lie to their little boys.
“You said it wouldn’t be scary! You said it would be fun but it was scary!”
That was true. I had told him it wouldn’t be scary even though I knew that it might be, that it probably would be. We were at Disney World – the most magical place on earth and my little boy was angry. My little boy thought his mom was a liar.
Earlier, we had stood at the bottom of Splash Mountain and watched the people riding in the long wooden logs raise their arms over their heads and scream as they took the final descent into the “briar patch”. Little Boy K had vehemently expressed his trepidation. It looked too fast. He didn’t want to get wet. People were screaming.
But I had been on this ride probably twenty times. I knew what he could not see from the bottom of that hill. He couldn’t see the vast majority of the ride that consisted of laughing animals, fun songs, tummy twisting hills – things I knew he would love. I didn’t want him to miss out on all of the wonderful parts of that ride because of the fear he had for the last ten seconds. I felt sure that if he took a chance on this that it would be his new “favorite” and we would end up on Splash Mountain for the rest of the day. I didn’t want him to miss out on all the fun because of his fear.
Needless to say, I overestimated the fun and underestimated the fear.
Little Boy K is a lot like me when I was a child. That’s when we start to make mistakes, isn’t it? When we start to see ourselves in our children? I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of ghosts, roller coasters, tornados, the dark, loud noises, flashing lights, many movies…the list goes on and on. Without getting too philosophical on the nature/nurture debate, Little Boy K shares a lot of these fears and that is probably my fault, genetically or otherwise.
And that’s okay. Kids are afraid of a lot of things. It’s part of being a kid.
But I start to worry when I see his fear prevent him from having fun, enjoying new experiences and most of all feeling the thrill of having beat your fear, of having been terrified and surviving and the awesome sense of accomplishment and pride (not to mention the adrenaline rush) that results.
I thought that if I could just get him to take a risk, he would get caught up in the magical parts of the experience, forget about the gigantic drop at the end, and plow through it. I saw the rest of our day being lit up by the glow from his smile at having come through the other side of fear with all limbs and bodily organs firmly intact. I could already see the deposit being made in his bank account of self-esteem, the bank account it was my job as a parent to keep full, his chest puffed out from the infusion he had received, fueling his self-assured swagger for days to come.
Instead he spent the ride with his hand gripping mine, asking in a shaky voice if the drop was coming yet. “Now? Is it going to be now?”
“Don’t worry, I will let you know. Look over there, do you see the turtles shooting water in the air? And do you recognize this song?”
It was hopeless. No amount of distraction would calm him. The ride, a very long one indeed, went by in an electrified, anxiety-filled haze, his sole focus on the terrifying drop at the end.
When we were finally ascending the hill. Listening to the clank, clatter clack of the wheels engaging the tracks beneath us, I looked over at his face, his beautiful face, twisted with fear, his cheeks red in preparation for the tears welling up in his eyes.
I had done this to him. I had pushed him too far. At that moment, I had the usual feeling of being trapped at the top of a roller coaster with nowhere to go but down, but my desire to get the hell off was more about wanting to undo what I had done.
We sped down the hill, the spray from the water shooting in our faces. The people in front of us screamed in roller-coaster fun, Little Boy K screamed in fear, and I screamed at myself. At the bottom, he whimpered and gave me a look of betrayal. My boy thought I lied to him.
He eventually forgave me. He consented to hold my hand again. We enjoyed the rest of our day, but he wasn’t exactly trustful of my appraisal of the remaining Magic Kingdom attractions, and for good reason.
I had put what I want for him before what he wants for himself.
My heart was in the right place but the better choice would have been to accept him for who he is, insurmountable fears and all, and be his safe harbor in the dark rather than the person shoving him towards the ledge because “you’ll love it! really!”. I know that some day, he will probably push himself and discover the fun in a little fear but that needs to come from him, not from me. I want to be the Mommy who hugs him and holds him, not the one who makes him scared.
Until then, you can find us on Winnie the Pooh.
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