Fear, Breathing, Parenting & Roller Coasters

Posted in Life Lessons from Dance on Jul 7, 2012

Fear has been showing up in my life in many forms lately. My son is terrified of bees and the bees are plentiful and low flying this summer. His fear is keeping us indoors. I am facing some of my own fears as I put myself out there on Facebook, Twitter and through blogging as I get ready for the launch of my first book. I am dealing with fear as I create a plan for keynote speaking engagements. I am facing some of my other fears as I hit another level of commitment and engagement in learning to ballroom dance.

I am working with my son on some breathing techniques when fear shows up. And we are talking about how he under-estimates his capacity to cope if he got stung by a bee while he over-estimates how much it will hurt to get stung. He has broken his arm three times and handled it with a shocking amount of calmness and bravery. His pain threshold is high. I know that getting stung by a bee is nothing compared to breaking his arm. None of my talking seems to be having any impact on him.

As a parent, I take note when my talking is having no impact. That is when I look to ‘being’ instead of talking. My son has a fear that he doesn’t want to face and all my talking, coaching and explaining isn’t making one bit of difference. Time for me to ‘be’ the change I want to see in him.

We went to Wonderland yesterday and my son really wanted to go on the Leviathan, the newest roller coaster. His friend was too scared to go on it with him and so my son turned to me and looked up at me with those big brown eyes of his.

“Please Mom, please go on the ride with me.”

Every cell in my body wanted to say no which is what I said at first. And then I felt a little prickle on the back of my neck. This was an opportunity. I do not like heights. I have a physical visceral reaction to being up high or seeing someone up high. It is an uncomfortable prickly tingly sensation that goes through my body and I feel a bit whoozy and lightheaded. The Leviathan was incredibly high. It towered over Wonderland. “Time to be the change!” I thought.

I turned to my son and said, “Yes I will go on it with you.”

The look on his face was incredulous. “Are you serious? You can’t stand heights.”

“I know, but I am making a choice. I am making a choice to do it anyway. And I will practice the breathing that we have been talking about it and let you know whether it helped me.”

As we got closer to the front of the line up, I could feel the sick feeling in my stomach building and I breathed in slowly and deeply and then I breathed out slowly. We got in our seats and I said to myself, “I am safe, I am safe, I am safe.”

I thought of Cheryl Strayed’s mantra, in her book, Wild, from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. When she felt fear rising on her solo hike through the mountains she would repeat her mantra, “I am not afraid.”

I had recently come across a quote by Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles and recently a Ted speaker:

“If we think of our fears as stories, then we are not only the authors but also the readers. Fears and storytelling have the same architecture. Fears have characters, they have plots: beginnings, middles, ends.”

If I am the author and the reader of my fear story, I have the opportunity to change the story. As the author, I have the power to write the story I choose to write.

“I am safe,” is just a different story than, “I am unsafe.”

I closed my eyes and breathed all the way up the painstakingly slow climb to the top.

“I am safe.”

And then came the vertical drop and then the twists and turns and the almost upside down banking at a ridiculously high height over the parking lot and then it was over.

“I did it!” I said to my son with a smile.

“That was awesome!” he said.

I can’t say that I enjoyed it or that I had fun but I can say that I kept fear at a manageable level by making a choice.

I don’t want fear to dictate my son’s life and I don’t want it to dictate my life.

The next day, I showed up for my dance lesson and danced with full commitment – ‘no holds barred’ dancing.

“What happened between Wednesday’s lesson and today?” my dance instructor asked. It was after all, only 2 days since my Wednesday lesson.

“I rode the Leviathan,” I said with a smile.