“I’ll try it, but I may turn around and come back down. Don’t try to make me go!” I said with forced speech to my teenagers as we climbed the steps higher and higher. The water slide was in sight, but still about fifty feet away and up.
Minutes before, we were getting ready to go home. Walking past a big slide on the way out, I said nonchalantly, “Oh, that looks really fun. Too bad we have to get home. I’ll definitely do it next time.”
“Mom, there’s literally no line. We should do it right now!” said my older girls.
“Yeah, go on Kris!” added my husband and his best friend, smiling. They knew I hadn’t meant a word I said. “We’ll wait right here for you. Give me your stuff & have fun!”
Our eight year old spoke up with passion. “Mom, you do not have to do this!” She and I had happily spent the day together hitting the lazy rivers and kiddie areas while the others sought drops and thrills.
The teens urged me to give it a try. Grabbing a raft and heading up the first flight of stairs, I hesitated and looked back.
“Mom, just think of this as exposure work. This is good for you!” said Erica smiling and making sure I didn’t make a run for the exit. My 15 year old, who had heard me a million times talk about how exposure work is the very best way to deal with anxiety, was pushing my own advice back in my face.
“Come on Mom, you can do this,” said Zoe, taking another angle. “You’ll love it. It’s so easy. I was nervous the first time, but it’s fun!”
“It’s just that this is not relaxing for me,” I said, still fretting and considering my options. “The lazy river is just my speed. It’s ok. We all have different things that make us happy.”
“You know, my little brother who is 9 AND my Mom did this ride last year and loved it,” added their buddy Ila upping the pressure. “Come on Aunt Kristin, if they can handle it, so can you.”
“Girls, you cannot shame me into riding this water slide. I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t like being up so very high.”
But I knew that the ride would be smooth and pretty easy once I overcame the anticipation of walking up the high, open air stair case. Every other minute or so, I imagined what would happen if I panicked on the stairs. Would I run back down? Crawl? Would someone need to carry me?
All ridiculous thoughts, but typical of the anxious brain frantically searching for escape routes and answers to “what if” scenarios.
I also knew that making my way up the flight of stairs was good role modeling for all the girls – both the ones encouraging me to go and the one who also found it scary. Trying to look up and not over the edge, I kept climbing, making the decision to keep going with every step.
When we got to the top, there were four slide choices. The girls were quickly talking about which slide was best and which was the slowest, meaning a good choice for me. I asked the ride workers (who were maybe 20 years old) which of the 4 slides was the easiest. “I’m a little nervous and this is my first time,” I said.
A young man, with a thick accent and name tag showing he was from Ukraine, smiled and said, “Yes, it is good. You sit here.” And, with a little push, I was on my way.
I heard the girls cheering as I took off down the slide. It was relaxing and beautiful like they said it would be. Late afternoon sunlight made it’s way through the tree tops and sparkled on the water. I found myself smiling, feeling the breeze in my face and leaning into the curves with contentment. Going down the “big” drop at the end was exciting and, all in all, the ride was over too quickly.
Getting out, I received cheers from my family & friends. I was a little shaky from the anticipation, but genuinely happy.
There’s a scene in Lemony Snicket that resonated with me, reading it the day after my ride.
“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.
“No,” Sunny answered.
“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. Let’s go.”
I wasn’t ready to go on the ride or deal with being nervous. Putting off things like that until tomorrow or the next time or when we’re ready is an attempt to feel brave in the moment. But underneath there is a part of us that wants to experience all of life and urges us forward, whispering alongside the fear - yes!
Saying yes to my girls and to life felt good. Saying yes to anxiety and facing it almost always feels very good after the fact. It’s the saying yes part, the feeling of shaky legs and racing thoughts that has to come first.
We walked out of the park as afternoon turned into early evening, hand in hand retelling stories from the day. Turning back toward the entrance, we saw our friends at the top of the Colossal Curl, a stair case rising 70 feet above the ground, waving like crazy and smiling.