Halloween fast-approaches and still, we’re undecided about Caroline’s costume. She has several outfit options—Cassie from Dragon Tales, a witch, a bumble bee—but she’s yet to try one on. She was all about running around in her pumpkin get-up last year, though much of her delight stemmed from the running around. She was beside herself, passing numerous houses and candy-acquiring opportunities along the way. She must have been thinking, “Why hasn’t mom let me run around in the dark in a pumpkin outfit before this???” Now that she’s nearly 3, she’ll find more pleasure in the door-to-door, knowing treats are involved, but I’m betting she’s going to be shy about it. She seems more reserved than other nearly 3-year-olds. Some kids her age will go to a new place, grab the nearest scooter and go, go, go. Caroline will not. She stands back and observes until it’s time to go, and that’s when she starts towards the scooter.
I’m not surprised by her shyness because Caroline and I do have a few things in common. She favors icing to cake; she refuses to leave the car until the song we’re listening to has ended; while she has rhythm, she’s really not a very good dancer, but she’ll boogie like crazy in the privacy of her own home. I watch the world, just like she’s been doing. I always thought it was because I’m the youngest of four—I’ve hardly needed to initiate because others around me have jumped to action. But it may run deeper, this tendency to sit back and watch the other kids swim a bit before taking my own personal plunge.
Obviously children learn behavior. I will not turn the motor off while Jackson Browne is mid-way through “These Days”—can’t do it. I don’t mind at all that Caroline has picked up on this habit. What does concern me is that she may be learning to approach life somewhat timidly. It’s okay to hesitate, as long as you eventually get going, but I’ve always admired the people who skip the hesitation part. I have friends who start orphanages, who travel the world, who take-on harrowing black diamond ski slopes, and they seem to tackle these challenges effortlessly. This is not to say I haven’t challenged myself. Here’s a list: I camped for 10 days straight in a temperate rain forest; I ran 26.2 miles in a row; I willingly attached myself to a cable and flailed 40 miles per hour down a 900’ zip line. But, really, the camping—not scary, just smelly. The running—not scary, just tiring. And the zip line—I was chaperoning the school trip to Wilderness Adventure and had just witnessed 12 5th graders hike up a steep hill and screamingly descend. Absolutely it was tyke-pressure.
So, I do DO—but I’ve always wanted to be cool about it. I’ve wanted to be the kind of person who does not pass up a good thrill, one who is the life of… well, of life. I admire that woman in the Title IX catalogue—you know, the toned one, pictured waxing her surfboard as her golden retriever stares at her lovingly. Or that one who lives in a bamboo hut, eating organic okra-sandwiches—the environmental engineer who overhauls mountain bikes as a hobby. I want to be her. Just like I want to be a dynamic force when public speaking to 100’s at a time. For me, though, it’s just not in the cards. I’ll speak but I’ll blush. I’ll ski the kinder, gentler slopes. I’ll travel the world, but I’ll worry during take-off and keep a close eye on the stewardess when the ride gets bumpy.
It’s Halloween, and the girls and I are cavorting with a lot of scary ghosts and monsters these days. FYI: To get rid of the ghosts, say “Boo!” (duh?!) and to get rid of the monsters, say “Be!” (short /e/ sound). Caroline scrambles up the stairs for naptime, and with some Boo!’s and Be!’s, we take care of what’s lurking. It’s that easy. I’ve provided her with this simple technique, and now, she’s the “Boo!” and “Be!” Go-To Girl. We can’t get rid of ghosts and monsters fast enough.
How as a less-than-daring mom do I make Caroline the Go-To Girl in every way? A lot of parents, it seems, want their kids to be just like them—great athletes, great musicians, whatever—but, in this respect, I want my kids to be a little different than I. I do want Caroline and Lexi to think, but I don’t want them to think too much. Because, I know what it is to try something even if it means looking foolish in possible failure. I know what it is to speak up even if palms sweat and face reddens. I know what it is to take a personal plunge despite the cold. What it is—what it usually will be—is okay.
I still have the photo that one of those 5th graders took of me the minute I climbed down from the zip line platform. It’s hilarious. My face is flushed; I’m wearing a goofy helmet, which is drooping a bit over my squinting, tearing eyes. And my smile is so wide that not a tooth is hidden from view. I am glad I rode that wire. I’d try not to hesitate if someone asked me to do it again.
I just don’t want my girls to miss out on that kind of fun, whatever it is, because once they’re in, they’re screamingly happy, and it’s a laugh and a great story. There’s much to fear in life, but there is candy to be had.