Just yesterday, Sarah and I surprised Shelby (and my nephew) with a trip to Cedar Point, one of the premier amusement parks in the world, just two hours from our home here in Ohio. Shelby has been asking to go back for years now, having only been once, when she was around 5 years old, with Megan and I.
She was far too young to ride anything more than the “kiddie” coasters, carousels, and the flat rides back then. Even then, she was terrified of any ride that was taller than ten feet or so. Cedar point has 18 different roller coasters...over half of which are over 100 feet tall, with one even reaching 400+ feet.
She has always been an incredibly cautious kid. She visibly displays anxiety when anything she is asked to do presents any uncertainty. Learning to ride her bike took years, because she was terrified of removing the training wheels, not because she couldn’t do it. Slowly dipping her feet into the pool, and slipping herself into 2 feet of water was her modus operandi for a decade before finally learning to really swim (and of course, loving it) this past year. Even getting her to try a new food was presented with a stubborn resistance and feigned gags while holding her nose, even before said brussel sprout was placed in front of her.
This has been frustrating for me, because I’ve never been able to put a finger on WHY she seemingly feels fragile or lacks confidence.
Megan, nor I, certainly were not picky eaters, overly cautious, or afraid to try new things. We never tried to keep Shelby in a bubble or seem overprotective. We encouraged her to drop the training wheels, let go of the wall at the pool (I was a trained, certified lifeguard, swim instructor, and a Marine, for Pete’s sake), and eat something other than plain hot dogs and grilled cheese. We provided her with entertainment like Cedar Point, with not only a willingness, but a great desire for her to excite herself with roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls, and thrill rides.
She would have none of it. It’s as if she placed herself in her own bubble, and there was no way for us to pop it.
That has started to change, ever so slightly. I know I will never get her to ride a 300-foot monster of a coaster that reaches 93 miles per hour. I don’t expect her to go bungee jumping anytime soon, or to develop a love for creamed peas. She isn’t me, and I don’t want her to be.
But she’s built up the gumption to try new things. Perhaps Megan did shelter her a bit, just wanting Shelby to be Shelby in the time she had with her. There was never any “pushing” to get Shelby out of her comfort zone. It might have stunted her a bit...not necessarily in a bad way, but it did keep her from developing a sense of learning by doing. For my part, I may have been overly pushy, wanting to throw Shelby into the fire, and only then let her decide if she did or didn’t like something.
Her recent “bravery” we’ll just say, has only developed in the past few years, since Sarah has been in our lives. Maybe this is because the two of them share similar backstories, both losing their mothers before age 10. Maybe this is because they both display anxiety when something new and thrilling is uncertain. Maybe it’s because Shelby sees someone just like her fighting through fear of the unknown, just enough to make it “known”, and give it it’s fair shake. Maybe it's just because she's getting older.
Yesterday, she boarded a roller coaster with dish-plate wide eyes, full of fear, very quiet, and almost in tears. But she did it regardless. She did it because Sarah was there. Not me, not Megan, and not her cousin (who, for his part, is borderline reckless and will do anything). I have never been able to get her to try things like this, nor was Megan.
Sarah though, has this ability to get her to remove the training wheels. To jump off the side of the pool sans-lifejacket. To forgo the bouncy house in order to scream a little bit on a roller coaster, but smile in the end. I can only speculate that it’s their similarities in personality that shows Shelby that everything really will be OK...it’s still safe, and might actually be fun.
For her part, after that first drop on a “real” roller coaster, Shelby loved it. She wanted to do it again. She was proud of herself, as were we. She realized that not everything that her old man suggests or pushes her to do is something unsafe...at least when it comes to roller coasters. Soon after that, we simply started walking towards a larger, faster coaster, and she followed along agreeably. It wasn’t one of the steel behemoths that CLEARLY she was going to be terrified of, but rather an old, wooden rattle-trap of a coaster that has stood for 55 years. She wasn’t as visibly nervous. There was no nail-biting or quietness as we waited in line. She displayed a sense of “sure, I’ll give it a try” that in 12 years, has rarely been displayed.
She hated that coaster. Too fast, way too many “bunny hop” ups and downs, and it could rattle the fillings out of your teeth. Halfway through the ride though, she was smiling. Secretly, I think she was incredibly proud of herself for having the gumption to try it.
And I’m pretty sure Megan was too. Sarah and I certainly are.
We bought season passes as we left the park. Shelby wants to go back.
Ultimately, Shelby was the bravest person I’ve ever seen in the face of losing her mother. Braver than I could ever have been.
It’s the little things like trying brussels sprouts and roller coasters that make me proud of her for being brave.