What a playground bridge taught me about fear

bridgeIn January of last year, we moved to a new home. Soon after, we found a local park that had four sand volleyball courts (reminagined in Annabelle’s mind as ‘giant sand castle land’), a great playground set with a big kids slide, an Annabelle slide, and a baby slide . In the playground, there was a simple suspension bridge connecting the “baby” sized equipment to the bigger kids. There was maybe an inch or so between each slat, and the whole of the bridge curved in a gentle U fashion.  For the first six months, she ran, skipped, jumped and crossed that bridge with no problems, not even a second glance. I was a little surprised at her abandon, but well, I was also impressed.  

Then one day, she tripped on one of the slats. Her arm dangled out from the edge and she cried. She wasn’t hurt by any means, but was certainly scared. Unfortunately, we had an appointment and had to go. I picked her up and carried her off the bridge. Now, not only was she scared, but in addition, she was upset that we had to leave the park. I wished I could go back to that day and take it a bit slower, but well, life is what it is.

It was a few months before we were able to return to the park. When we did, she stopped in front of the suspension bridge and wailed at the top of her lungs. Annabelle desperately wanted to get to the big kids slide. I didn’t go up to the bridge with her, and instead offered to hold her hand. That wasn’t good enough, so she scampered down and climbed up the big kids ladder, which in my opinion was a lot harder than this silly suspension bridge. Why is it that, when we are afraid of something, it is easier to do something crazy or difficult rather than just address fear? But wait? Is that true? Didn’t little miss do something more impressive than walking across a stupid bridge? True, Annabelle was able to achieve something she may not have been able to do normally. But here’s the rub: I talked to her about it afterwards. She wasn’t proud of climbing the big kids ladder, she was proud of avoiding the bridge.

Ever since then, she has refused to cross the bridge except on two occasions. Each time, she started across on her butt, I had to hold her hand, and she cried the entire length of the bridge. I told her she didn’t have to do this, but she insisted. I let her, in the hopes that her bravery would trump apprehension, but alas, her little body was debilitated by the physical repercussoins of fear. She avoided the whole mess and went on to climb the big kids ladder with ease and abandon. Older kids and even grownups (her Dad and Grandpa) tried to show her how easy it was to cross the bridge. At two and a half, she ignored them with the impudence only a toddler could have. She intrinsically knew that any old grownup could do the job, what she needed something different. She needed someone who was just like her, to show her how to cross. Sometimes, watching the experts isn’t all that impressive.

Last week, we were at the park on a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest. This year, March was recorded as the rainiest ever. It had been a good six months since we visited the park. Annabelle climbed up the baby stairs and stood in front of the suspension bridge. She didn’t cry, but turned tail and headed for the big kids ladder. A few minutes later, a girl and her mom showed up. The little girl, Julie (not her real name) was older than Annabelle by a year and just as precocious, running around and being all toddlery independant.  Julie ran up the baby stairs and crossed the suspension bridge. Annabelle ran behind her. At the edge of the bridge she froze and yelled, “STOP!” Julie came back and held her hand across the bridge. They ran around some more and ended up at the bridge again. Annabelle, instead of yelling STOP, crying, or looking to me for an answer, she crawled across that bridge. There are times when a person can help us out in the littlest of ways and it has a huge impact on our life.

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]What kind of bridges are you avoiding in life? Do you have anything that you’ve overcome and proud of? Is there anyone that has helped you overcome fear, even the little ones? Please comment, we love to hear what you think![/dropshadowbox]


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1 Comment
  1. This is a great story, thank you for sharing. I love the lessons that we can learn from our kids, they are excellent teachers.

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