“Baseball game…..motorcycles…loud!.…raining…..SHARK…..scaaaaare me!”
If my two year old, Lemon, caught your ear in the last five months or so, this was the story you were going to hear. Or at least that’s her version. With an expanded vocabulary it might go something like this: Our family went to a local minor league baseball game this last summer. Prior to the game there was a motorcycle parade around the perimeter of the field that produced a great deal of noise and excitement. After the parade the heavens opened up and 17 inches of rain fell in about an hour, delaying the beginning of the game. During the delay we all tried in vain to stay dry under what little shelter a single-A baseball stadium has to offer and, eventually, the mascot made its way over to us.
(After comparing the two versions of the story, I realize just how great of a communicator Lemon is – and how I could really stand to work on brevity. Another post….)
So, apparently when an 8 foot shark in a jersey walks up to a two year old, you’re going to want to make sure that said two year old is prepared for such a visitor. While I was not there to witness it (I was getting the car to heroically rescue my family from the biblical downpour), word is the motorcycles and heavens had nothing on Lemon that day. Poor little thing just lost it and has talked about it to EVERYONE since.
Imagine our surprise, then, when her answer to “what do you want to be for Halloween?” was “SHARK!”
That makes for a proud daddy right there. After obsessing on this horrific mascot for months, our little warrior decides that, not only is this not something to fear, she is going to actually become one. Now, before I continue let me state that I am well aware that the world of a two year old is a highly impressionable one and this choice probably has to do with a variety of things – beginning stages of language development, desire to verbally participate, shallow pool of experiences on which to speak, etc. However, this little girl is mighty and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. She’s not just confronting her fears – she’s consuming them.
And she’s giving her daddy a lot to think about.
Recently I reconnected via Facebook with an old high school classmate with whom I had a teenage rivalry, and not so much the friendly kind. Actually, when I said to him something about not being able to stand each other when we were fourteen, he said “nope, we were enemies”. We went on to have a brief exchange about it that brought smiles to my face and lessons to my head and made me think of my little shark.
The springhead of that adolescent feud largely escaped us, but, at least for me, it was unquestionably rooted in fear, as are most problems. I was a fearful kid. I was uncomfortable with myself. I was unsure of who I was. I was scared to look.
Just like most people.
For me, all of that fear manifested itself in all sorts of ways – arrogance, cowardice, cruelty, unoriginality, weakness – and I did some things of which I am not particularly proud as a result. It prevented me from truly being happy and led to suffering. I grew older and moved on from being that kid bit by bit, but not because I really turned to face the fear that fed those behaviors. Into my young adulthood, I matured almost by accident. It truly wasn’t until my late twenties that I started looking more deeply into myself to unabashedly find the fear that was really in there, to devour it as my warrior daughter is doing. And, consequently, it wasn’t until then that I truly began to learn humility, courage, kindness, originality and strength.
As for all of us, this can be a painful journey to take, but the rewards are limitless. As a parent I innately want to shield my daughters from difficulties that come with this journey, but wish for them all the rewards. As a person I know that the journey is most of the reward in itself, that the pain is natural and necessary to the destination.
So, tomorrow we will dress Lemon in her orange shark costume and she will become the thing that has terrified her more than anything else in her short life. At age two she will drape herself in her fears while it took her father a quarter century to peek at his. She won’t run from it, she won’t internalize it, she won’t pretend that it isn’t there. She’s going to rock it. I hope for her that she continues to hunt for her sharks in life and she continues to bite them, rather than let them bite her.
We can learn a lot from our sharks. Happy Halloween.