The other day we went the canyon in the afternoon. It was one of the last hot days in the forecast (well, we can hope!), and I thought it would be fun to splash in the cool water. And it was. The water was too cold to be inviting enough to get really wet, but Xander enjoyed finding rocks and sticks to throw in, picking his way across the running stream, losing a shoe and not even caring. Eddie scrambled over large boulders, gleefully discovering long-legged skimmer bugs and the tiniest frog, and built a boat with a leaf for a sail. We didn’t go far but wandered along the stream stopping at a few of the deeper pools. Sticks dug into the dirt, rocks splashed. Ollie enjoyed splashing in the water gliding over a large boulder and trying to sneak leaves and twigs into his mouth when I let him out of the carrier strapped to my chest.
Then Eddie noticed a big smooth fallen log stretching over a few foot drop in the stream. “Just like a slide!” he said. Maybe a few feet over the water at its highest, he commented how it was a tricky slide, how if you fell off you’d land in the water. I didn’t push, remained nonchalant about how if one fell in, they’d be wet, not the end of the world. I really didn’t expect him to try out the “slide”, we were just chatting about it. But after a while he ventured up the trail to where the tree rested before jutting down beside the water gliding over a big boulder toward the shallow pool below. He carefully edged down the tree, straddling it like a pony. He was careful and controlled. I was mentally weighing the risk and could see the worst would be a short slide down a hard rock into shockingly cold water. He didn’t get far before the risk became too big in his mind; it was too high, too easy to fall. He’d started edging backward up the log when he slipped.
The fall was startling. He slid down the rock and half into the water, his legs below the knee got wet. Of course, he cried out and tried scrambling up the slippery rock instead of just standing up in the pool of (maybe) knee-high water and wading out the other side. He slid back down the rock into the water again and his cries turned panicked. I was watching from the trail and had Ollie strapped on me in the carrier, so it took me a few moments to round the brush and wade into the water toward Eddie. I soothed, “You’re fine. It’s just water. I’m coming to help you. Just stand up and come to me.” He couldn’t. He kept trying to stay out of the water, clung to the slippery rock screaming at me to help him up the rock incline! I reached him and tried to help him stand, but he refused to enter the water wanting me to help him climb the rock. It was too slippery, and I didn’t want to fall with Ollie strapped to me. I kept coaxing through the panic, and eventually found a safe way to help him up over the rock back to the trail.
He calmed down. I told him how brave he was to try out his idea. I praised him for trying, pushing himself. I wanted him to know falling, failing, is good because it means he’s doing something hard! I wanted him to know falling in is okay. I reassured him I knew he would be safe. Yes, it might be scary to fall, the water was cold, and he felt stuck and scared clinging to that rock, but I knew he was alright. He wasn’t hurt, and IT WAS WORTH IT. I don’t want him to hold back because of fear. Of course I don’t want him to get hurt or be scared by a fall, but it’s worth the risk.
I don’t think my words taught him much. I hope the experience did. The jolt, the fear after he fell off the log, the scrambling up a slippery rock only to slide back in, and my calm voice and reassuring helpful hand up. I hope that stuck. I hope he knows he risked and fell, but it was okay. He was okay.
In life, he will fall. He will fail.
Such is life.
While my gut is to protect him, more important is preparing him. The other day I was there to coach him, help him up, brush him off, and I hope I can always be there to be a calm and encouraging voice when he falls.
Such is parenting.