While snuggling my just-barely 4 year old to sleep recently, he and I were having one of those nose to nose, heart to heart, bedtime conversations where questions that wouldn’t be asked or answered in daylight are whispered on tired lips. Every exchange is a little more earnest and feels a little more honest, perhaps because the activity of the day has weathered our minds and bodies, and we are drifting near the space where consciousness gives way and our defenses feel secure in surrender, if only briefly.
We celebrated his birthday earlier in the day with time at the lake with family, and our conversation that night was centered around what was good about the day – playing with his cousins, sword fighting (yikes, where was I when that happened), water skiing, and cupcakes with sprinkles.
I’m so glad you had fun water skiing today. I was so proud watching you out there. You are getting very brave.
He quickly dropped his eyes, and in a tiny voice whispered, I was not very brave, mommy.
What do you mean sweetie? I saw you out there. I saw you go over the big waves, no problem.
He continued in an even tinier voice, I was scared of those waves, mommy.
As I gave him a big squeeze, I whispered back, Oh kiddo, being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. Being brave means you are afraid, but you keep going anyways. Do you get that? I saw the look on your face when you came up to the waves. I knew you were scared. I could see it on your face. I’m proud of you because you kept going.
With that, he nuzzled his head into the space between my head and my shoulder, draped his arm across my chest, and started his journey into dreamland. I lay there next to him, feeling the rise and fall of his chest and the warmth of his breath on my neck, and contemplated the irony of the words that had come from my mouth. It was a please do as I say, not as I do moment.
I beat myself up pretty regularly for not being brave enough or strong enough, because I feel fear. While it’s true, I sometimes let my fear get the best of me and say enough is enough, I’m not ready for this today, or this year, or this lifetime, there are plenty of other times I do things that flat out scare me, like cruising on a zipline from leafy green treetops, or putting myself out there with this blog, or grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s in NYC between 5pm and 8pm on a weeknight (it’s madness, pure madness).
I just don’t give myself credit when I do keep going. I choose to believe the fear I feel in those moments is more demonstrative of my character than the strength I have to keep going.
So today, I am going to give myself some credit, because I want this to be a do as I say, because it’s also what I do moment.
Today, I drove to a doctor’s appointment that had my stomach in knots. I cried most of the way there. But I kept going.
Today, I walked into my appointment and presented my paperwork to the receptionist, only to find out the doctor was on vacation. I cried most of the way back. But I kept going.
Today, I sent my husband off on a work trip and I sent my children off camping with grandma for a few days. I was scared for them and for me (when was the last time I had been without at least one of them). I felt my chest constrict and my breath leave me, as I turned in the opposite direction of grandma’s minivan. But I thanked God for the gift of my lungs and the breath they provide, and I thanked Him for the gift of time to myself and I kept going.
Today, I wrote this blog post, and I re-wrote this blog post, and I re-wrote this blog post again. I felt the rhythm of my heart outside of my chest. I felt uncertain. I felt exposed. But I kept going.