It’s summertime, a time for leisure, relaxation, and (if you’re in my neck of the woods) conquering fear.
My little guy is finally learning to swim. And I have finally summoned the courage to don a bathing suit again for the first time in about four years. Together, we face our fears and do things that strike utter dread into our hearts. Hand in hand, we deconstruct our fears, consider both the rational and irrational aspects of them, and figure out how to move forward mindfully. Cheering each other on, we overcome our fears, not by strong-arming them, but by taking small and meaningful steps toward mastery of them. We honor what they have to teach us and allow them to make us stronger, more competent, more whole-hearted people. We let our fears motivate us to grow rather than shrink. And let me tell you, it’s making for a memorable summer.
Learning to Swim
My little guy, much like his mama, loves the water. Any body of water will do for him, from a small puddle to the bathtub to the neighbors’ pool (it’s so wonderful to have neighbors who share!) to the ocean. It doesn’t matter if it’s warm or cold (the water or the air) or if he’s dressed for the occasion. If it’s wet, this child is game. But please, PLEASE don’t suggest that he get his face wet. Ever.
So as you might imagine, he was initially excited to participate in swimming lessons. Until that inevitable moment when he realized that he needed to put his precious little face in the water, at which time excitement turned into grave concern and stubborn hesitation. But that didn’t last…
Fortunately, he recognized that being able to swim would open up many possibilities for him going forward, so he decided (not me, not his teachers, not anyone else) to face his fears. His only condition was that he required goggles, and we were happy to accommodate.
Watching him chip away at his fear and acquire one small skill at a time has been a joy. Seeing his focused concentration and ceaseless determination has filled my heart with pride. And observing his growth from timid and afraid to excited and confident has been absolutely inspiring. We are capable of so much growth and change if only we will try!
Facing My Fear
As Rohan learns to swim, I sit on the sidelines watching intently, and per my usual routine of late, trying to be invisible. But watching my little man lean into his fear helped me look at my body-image-related fears in a new light.
(Please don’t get me wrong. It has been an absolute pleasure to sit on the sidelines and watch my child grow. It’s a privilege I didn’t enjoy with my firstborn, and, from the bottom of my grateful heart, I cherish being able to do it now. It’s the “invisibility” part that’s troublesome.)
I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. Now I’m in my forties and I swear my body has gone haywire. I look at food and gain weight. And I haven’t found what feels like a sustainable lifestyle rather than a temporary fix that addresses it for the long term. Making matters more frustrating, I feel terribly disappointed in myself for “letting myself go.” And everywhere I go, I fear disapproving – repulsed even – looks on the faces of strangers who fail to see me as anything more than “fat” (and possibly lazy). Being a heavy woman in today’s world is physically, emotionally and socially demanding; it isn’t for the faint of heart.
Following the Leader
So I watch Rohan face his fears for half an hour every day. And as he works to be better, and I can’t help but think that I need to challenge myself to face fears more honestly and consistently.
I know I’m not prepared to take on the challenge of getting my weight under control yet. I need to navigate through the remainder of summer, and into our first year of kindergarten. With that transition behind me, I’ll be prepared – I think – to focus on my health. But life is now. So?
I know I need to take more risks and learn to really love the skin I’m in.
- I will wear the bright summer colors that I so love, and in which, anyone is sure to get noticed. And I’ll accessorize. The disapproving looks have more to do with the givers’ insecurities than with me.
- Having finally purchased a bathing suit that fits my decidedly curvier body, I must actually wear it and splash around with my precious aspiring swimmer.
- And at the park, I need to run, laugh and play, jiggly arms and wobbly thighs be damned.
There are countless memories to be made, and I’m going to make them with my precious little guy. My fear will not stop me from sharing these precious moments.
Confronting Scarier Demons
In the grand scheme of things, fear of swimming, or of being seen only as fat (we’re so much more than our outward appearance!) are relatively small fears. I say this without any judgment of anyone’s fears.
We live in a time when people fear that they will lose (or perhaps will never gain long-awaited) precious freedoms. People fear being separated and/or never reunited with beloved family. We fear for our planet and the trajectory of worldwide politics. Our jobs are uncertain as is our ability to provide for our families and to secure adequate healthcare. Many fear for their very lives every day. And tragically, so much of these fears are created because we fear “the other.” We fear each other.
The enormity of these fears can be overwhelming and our ability to effect meaningful change in these realms is painstakingly slow at best. We feel like we have to move mountains. And we are at increased risk of falling victim not only to our circumstances but to our own fears as well.
Despite this, as I watch my little guy wrestle with his fears I feel hopeful. For he reminds me that in the face of our greatest fears, we are empowered in very meaningful ways. Even under the worst of circumstances, we get to choose:
- action or inaction,
- growth or stagnation,
- risk-taking or playing it safe,
- mindfulness or reactiveness,
- welcoming challenges or refusal to face them,
- embracing change or resisting it.
Facing Fear Together
When our fears loom large, the answers aren’t as simple as “just dive in.” They’re far more complicated and nuanced than that. But no matter what, when we maintain clear thinking and stand firmly in our truth (ever open to new perspectives and information), we are empowered to make meaningful and impactful choices. And that always matters.
As we move through our daily lives, let’s be aware not only of our own fears but of those of our friends, family, and neighbors as well. Let’s talk about them with courageous vulnerability and a willingness to deeply hear the pain of others. I think we can do a great deal to help steady one another and to collectively identify empowered solutions.
Fear is uncomfortable, but so often it’s here to help us grow stronger, more confident, and more determined to be better. Breathe, open your heart, and try to hear what it asks of you. And know, whatever your fear may be, I’m holding space for you and wishing you all the best with my whole heart.