“You need to relax and just let them do what they are going to do.”
“Things are going to happen. They will fall, they will get hurt. You have to accept that”
The stranger with the #RandomUnsolicitedAdvice this time was not me, but an older woman at the park. She was watching her grandson explore the jungle gym calmly while I paced, grimaced, and called out nervously to my three year olds.
“You raised some boys of your own?,” I said to her slightly embarrassed that my neurosis were that obvious.
“One of each and there were lots of broken bones,” she smiled.
Gee, thanks lady, like this is supposed to calm me while my two most prized possessions hop, skip, and run on what looks to me like the Sears Tower of jungle gyms. Every single opening a potential for a slip, a fall, and then God knows what.
One of my earliest memories is being five years old at the ballet. My grandmother had season tickets to the City Opera and took me to my first ballet. My mother was with us. I remember being in a dress and excited to be in a balcony seat. It was like having a terrace in a theater. From this balcony I had a clear view of the stage, nobody’s big melon of an adult head blocking my view like in the movie theater. I leaned a bit over to take a closer peek. Then I felt it…the frantic tug on the back of my dress. My mother, terrified of heights, was pulling me back. “She won’t fall,” somebody said. “I won’t fall,” I protested, but that frantic pull continued all throughout the performance, just one fraction of an inch leaning forward and it yanked me back, not to safety but to my mother’s own perceived comfort zone.
I recently read that when Eleanor Roosevelt was a child she was on the Britannic as it sank. She was dropped from the ship into the arms of her father in a lifeboat below. Roosevelt was petrified of heights and sailing from that day forward. I thought about how she must have gotten onto that ship excited and fearless…only to never want to board one again. Though far more traumatic than my mother tugging at the back of my frock at the ballet, the concept is similar. All it takes is one bad experience, or the impact of a loved one’s phobia to change your outlook forever. I entered that ballet like Eleanor, excited, fearless, and left it a little changed. It’s the last time I remember being comfortable up high.
Since that day I have been a nervous wreck when myself or anyone in my field of vision is in any danger of falling. I once had a terrible public argument with my husband for standing too close with his back to the edge of a cliff at a park. He saw my concern as irrational, I saw his positioning as one slip, one misstep, one push from a child or dog…both running freely in the area…from sudden death. We have not gone back to that park, once a favorite place of ours, since that day.
My fear of heights means I will not sit on a wall Humpty Dumpty style (he did suffer a great fall you know), ride a hot air balloon, or tour a beautiful city in a helicoptor. I won’t go repelling like the ladies of Real Housewives of Orange County did, or tightrope walk like the gang on Real Housewives of New Jersey. I won’t climb a great mountain, or, as I’ve gotten more and more fearful over the years, even ride a roller coaster anymore. Don’t even ask me what it takes to get me on a plane…perhaps the poor soul who had to listen to my hungover misery on a connecting flight from Munich to Rome may want to cover that one.
Will being afraid of heights stunt my day to day life? No, but as I pointed out above there are amazing adventures that just do not appeal to me. The fear outweighs the thrill. This fear that, because I can control just what risks I take and don’t, gets projected onto those around me. My husband by that cliff, my kids by that threatening opening too close to the slide they like to descend. So there I was, with my eyes bouncing in different directions like a chameleon’s trying to hold the gaze of two little boys. Two fearless, excited little boys who just wanted to enjoy the first warm spring day at the park, whose killjoy of a mother was peppering their adventure with ,”Don’t get too close”, “Slow down”, “You’re too little to climb that!” Then the voice of that woman…voice of reason…sort of.
I’m still not sure if this woman was a careless parent whose kids always got hurt, but there was some validity to her advice. As much as I like to think these two vibrant miraculous beings are mine forever, in many ways they won’t be. They aren’t possessions, they are human beings and I do have to let them fly and fall. Be it hopefully not off the unreasonably high structure at the park, but somewhere, at sometime, in someplace they will fall down and I won’t be there to catch them. I won’t be there to hold them back…and do I want my fears to be embedded in their brains doing just that? Do I want them to someday miss the view from above because I was too scared to look at it with my own eyes? I smiled at the stranger and like a gift from God an old friend caught the corner of my eye and our conversation was the perfect distraction. With my eyes still following them, but my mind otherwise engaged, my sons continued to play…happy, excited, fearless…and they didn’t fall.