Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Pool & a Wall

There is no prouder moment in parenting than watching your child overcome one of their basic fears. From the first leap from the third stair into your arms, until they take the leap of faith that is leaving home, a parent and child form a unique bond of trust and faith in overcoming fears.

This past year I have watched as both of my girls have undertaken to do feats that slew a personal demon, and as a father I couldn't have been more proud.

We arrived at the children's festival last September expecting to do the traditional activities: the petting zoo, a train ride, and the consumption of a few snacks. I gazed up at the rock wall as we walked past, remembering my own attempt at climbing a similar wall several years ago. In that attempt, as I neared the half-way mark, my stomach turned in me and I knew I would not be ringing any summit bells on that day. I sheepishly let myself fall back to the ground, embarrased that I had so little internal fortitude to overcome what has been a life-long irrational fear.

Now, as we walked hand-in-hand among the activities of the children's festival, Meikina announced her intention. "Daddy," Meikina said, "I want to climb the rock wall." Her pronouncement was unexpected, and I didn't even know how to respond. "You have tried before, Sweetheart," failing in my role as a father by discouraging her. Fortunately, she bore stronger convictions, and insisted I let her try. We walked over to the rock wall and got in line.

"OK," I insisted, getting on board with the "Team", "just keep your eye on the rock grips above you. Don't look down, and once at the top, ring the bell. You can do this!" Meikina was harnessed in, given a short tutorial, and turned to face the wall.

She quickly stepped onto the lower grips and pulled herself hand over hand to the next levels. But, after quickly ascending the first six feet, she began to slow in her climbing. As she got to the half way mark, and with my heart pounding in my throat, she hesitated. "I want to come down," she yelled.

Meigon has always been terrrified of water. As I recounted in another blog , even washing her hair has been traumatic. Since I envision rafting, swimming, and other water excursions with my girls, this winter I enrolled Meigon in swim classes. Although hestitant at first, she quickly got into it and soon began submersing herself under water, something that would have been unheard of even six months ago.

As I watched both my girls work slowly and incrementally to achieve their goals, I witnessed as they just as slowly overcame the biting fear in their little bodies. At first Meigon would barely move her head into the water, quickly coming back up and hurriedly wiping any water from her eyes and face. But slowly her confidence grew, and soon she was excitedly calling to me as she held her breath and submerged herself for longer and longer periods of time. Halfway through the class, I asked her if she was comfortable in the water. "Yes, I am Daddy," was her reply. The water devil no longer appeared in her mind as she entered the water.

As I stood below Meikina, perched as she was halfway up the rock wall, I understood the agony she was experiencing. Her legs were shaking with anxiety, and I knew she desperately wanted to come down. "Meikina!" I yelled up to her. "You are almost there. I know this is scary, but just look up at the bell. You can make it! See that blue rock above your right hand? Reach up and grab it! Take it easy Sweetheart, you are almost there." I could see the transformation of her body as she regained her courage and once more began the ascent. In a few minutes she was in arm's reach of the buzzer, and slowly she extended a free hand and rang it. A loud cheer rose from the watching crowd, who had gathered as we had shouted encouragement up to her. After a few seconds of coaxing, she let go of the rock face and slowly glided back down to the earth.

In both cases -- as Meigon grinned at my camera as she swam to me underwater, and as Meikina looked at me as she descended from her summit -- my heart was filled with pride and gratitude. I was so proud that my girls trusted me, and themselves, enough to overcome a deep-seated fear. But also gratitude that they trusted themselves enough to try. These were small mountains to climb -- a 25 foot rock wall and a 4 foot deep pool. But they were their first victories, the base camp for the assault of the fears that will beset them in their lives. I know that they will be up for the challenge.

(To see video of Meikina's climb, click here!) (Please give it a few seconds to download!)