I want my kiddos to try new things, to eagerly embrace the unexpected, the unknown, the new. I want them to venture forth without fear because I spend so much of my life buried under it. Fear keeps me from all sort of things — new opportunities, relationships, adventures, and frankly it sucks. I will openly admit to having social anxiety and laugh off my misfires in public, but the reality is I miss out on things all the time because I’m afraid to leave my comfort zone. And I don’t want the same thing to be true for my boys.
Youngest fears nothing. He waltzes into new situations full of confidence and spunk. People think he’s charming and funny and he makes friends everywhere we go. With him, I’m more worried he’s going to be lured into a dangerous situation and have to constantly remind him that no, he should not help a stranger find his lost dog, and no, it’s not okay to take treats from someone you don’t know (or pick up candy off the ground and eat it. True story.) Oldest is a mixed bag. He’s friendly and outgoing some of the time, and other times he builds an invisible wall around himself and refuses to let anyone in.
This morning I dropped them off at a camp they’d never attended before. Held at a local college, I thought it would be a fun opportunity for them try something new. Youngest was apprehensive at first and asked a million questions (as per his MO), but quickly joined a group of kids his age and began passing around a beach ball. Oldest stood, hunch-shouldered, earbuds in place, and alternated his gaze from his watch to a scowl directed at yours truly.
Actual conversations from this morning:
Him: This is stupid.
Me: Keep an open mind. Isn’t that [boy from school]?
Him: (eye roll). Great. And [two other boys from school he apparently hates]. Just great.
Him: I’m bored. Why did you make me wake up at 8 am and come here?
Me: I want you to try new things. Because I love you.
Him: (scoffs) That’s doubtful.
I drove away, and as I passed the group of campers waiting to get started, there was my boy, standing alone on the edge of the sidewalk like he hoped it would swallow him whole. And I started to worry that I’d forced him into something in order to satisfy my own fears — the fear of my children not fitting in, or being liked, or finding success in life. I used to think he was an extrovert. He loved being around other kids when he was little and enjoyed the attention from my large, loud family. Naturally I assumed he’d be fine in new situations, but it often backfired. He’d clung to me during library story hour and screamed the first time I took him to soccer practice.
And now? He loves going to the library and soccer fills up a huge part of his daily life. So how far do we push our kids, or ourselves, into the unknown? If we don’t take that first step we may never stumble upon something we come to love. If we don’t say, yes, I am anxious about this new situation but I am going to try it anyway, we may never meet the person who becomes a lifelong friend. We may never discover who we truly are.
I don’t expect this camp to be a life changing event for my boys, but I hope they at least come home today not completely mad at me for making them go.