Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Facing their fears

             We had been talking about this day for weeks-- the first day of swimming lessons! My 2 year old daughter was excited.  She said she was ready to jump in the pool with her new teacher and practice her kicking and show off how well she puts her face under the water.     

             We arrived right on time and, in her adorable ruffled bottom swimsuit, my little one went right to the teacher, a complete stranger with a big smile and warm welcome.  For the first few minutes everything was fine.  My daughter looked a little wary, her eyes wide and suspicious, but she seemed to be putting on a brave front.  Then, it was all just too much for her.   Her lower lip started to quiver and tears started to fall from her big brown eyes.  She cried until, finally the 15 minute lesson ended.  

            We went home and immediately she pulled out her toys and wanted to pretend swimming lessons.  “This the baby,” she told me, “and this her swimming teacher,” she said showing me a little matchbox car, and a bigger one.  She made her little car jump to the big car and then the baby car started to cry.  All afternoon she repeated the game, the baby car crying at the swimming lesson.  I repeatedly reminded her how much fun the baby car would have if only she relaxed and enjoyed the swimming.  My daughter, though, seemed to enjoy reliving the fear and anguish she herself had felt earlier in the day.  

The "baby" car and the "swim teacher" car.
            A few years ago (okay a lot of years ago now), a similar scene occurred with her older sister.  Tim and I took our only child, at the ripe old age of about a year and a half, to sit on Santa Claus' lap.  She was excited as we stood in line, but at the sight of that bearded old man she burst into uncontrollable tears.  We got a picture but it wasn’t exactly a happy scene, instead I worried my child would be emotionally scarred by the experience.  After we had the picture developed and I scrapbooked it into our family album (because though it was a torturous experience it was still a picture of her with Santa), she would ask, every day, to look at her “crying picture”.  She loved that picture of herself, all tear-stained and distressed.  It was months before she finally forgot about the “crying picture” and stopped asking to see it.  

The "crying picture" my first-born loved so much.
             I’m not sure how these events can one minute cause my children such fear and anxiety, then the next minute fascinate them so.  I can’t help but wonder what it is about these difficult experiences that intrigue them and draw them back time and again.    

             Is it that hindsight has shown them the error of their ways and they look back with a sense of humor at how they had overreacted?  Or, do they see something deeper in their own fear?  Do they see, that in their limited life experience, this is one time they faced their greatest fear and somehow came through it safe and unscathed?  Can it be that my little ones have wisdom beyond their years?   Do they truly understand that it is through leaving our comfort zones and expanding our horizons that we truly grow and that, somehow, we are not the same after we face our fears? 

Or…. are my children just really as strange as they sometimes seem?

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