Taking On the Big Slide

His tiny feet found their way onto the bright blue ladder as he pulled himself up with a daring giggle. Each step lifting him higher off the safety of the carpeted floor. Let them do dangerous things carefully, I whisper to myself, trying to fight the maternal urge to scoop him into my arms and chunk the slide into the garbage pile. I had already envisioned him toppling over the side and colliding with the floor. My mind assessing all the gruesome injuries he could acquire from this newfound activity. The prideful grin on his face was evidence that I was alone in these anxious thoughts and I found myself grateful that he was so willing to try new things. Adventure was calling and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him, especially not a barely-3-foot slide.

Toddlers are built fearless. This is something I have learned over and over as both a mother and a preschool teacher, however, it never fails to catch me off-guard every single time. Also, call it determination or pure stubbornness, toddlers are persistent when it comes to trying new things. Be it climbing the back of the couch or opening cabinets to spill the contents all over the clean floors. Their need to explore is so strong it pushes them to keep trying even when they fail the first 15 times.

I wonder when we lose that determination. When does the wonder and exploration of the world around us disappear? I am so much more fearful now than I ever was at 2 or 3 or 8 years old. It’s this fear that has kept me from chasing dreams (big and small) because I feel like I need to do the practical and safe thing.

Let them do dangerous things carefully.

What if this doesn’t just mean climbing to the top of the slide, building a bicycle ramp or swimming in the deep end of the pool? What if the danger isn’t just physical, but social or mental or financial?

Writing feels dangerous to me. All of my words, my heart my thoughts are poured out in black and white on a page for other people to read, dissect, judge and comment on. That is terrifying. It’s like sitting at the top of the slide looking down at the ground and being unable to push off. You can’t imagine the joy and relief of gently landing at the bottom when the terror of plummeting 12 feet to the ground is all you can focus on.

I guess it’s a perspective shift that needs to happen in these moments. If you’re like me, you know that is easier said than done. My brain tends to focus on worst-case-scenario and before long I am convinced that the entire world is a dangerous, mean place bent on knocking me down and kicking me. Dramatic much? But you know your thoughts drift there too.

What would happen if we embraced the determination, confidence and willingness to try new things that toddlers embody so well? How much would our lives change? I’m not naive enough to think that everything will work out perfectly and I won’t end up hurt. But if I refuse to be an amateur, learn and grow (and fail), I won’t experience the full joy of living. And neither will you, friend.

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