There is a tree house high up up in the sky at my kids’ school, which to reach, you must scale a grounded wreaking ball, shimmy up a rope, transfer to another rope to climb, then pull yourself up into the house. I hate this tree house. There is not age minimum to climb due to the expectation that kids cannot make it up until they are ready to be up there, which typically is grade fifth or sixth. My daughter is a fifth grader and she recently got really angry with me when I declined to watch her show me how much progress she’s made in climbing up to the tree house. There are certain things I do not want to know about. I’m afraid of heights and anything happening to my two babies, and this cloud-high tree house brings both of those fears together into a erupting volcano of anxiety.
When my daughter got mad at my refusal, she yelled that I was transferring my anxiety to her. She was probably right, even though I’d gone out of my way to avoid doing so. I didn’t ask that my kids not climb to the tree house or not slide down the tall two story banister or any other scary thing that would make me lose my breath if watching, I merely asked that they not tell me until later, like college graduation later.
My anxiety was probably passed down in a way I could not prevent, had I wanted. My daughter has always been cautious, even when I pushed her forward. It’s genetic, my husband would say. While my son is much more of a leap first, think later kid, he’s still a wee bit more cautious than some of his friends. Cautiousness-light is good, but over cautiousness in the form of paralysis-light is not. I don’t want my kids to fear the world, scary challenges, or new things. I don’t want them to grow up in a bubble, but my best coping strategy is to close my eyes when they do something daring. I’m not stopping her from climbing, I just don’t want to know. For me, there is a great distinction that feels like I am pushing my comfort zone to allow her to push her own limits, but to my daughter, not watching her do the things that scare me, is the same as ordering her to stop.
I thought the solution to balancing anxiety and encouragement was not to watch, but that didn’t work. I’m going to have to push myself more, forcing myself to watch the things that scare me, even if I am screaming “stop!” on the inside. About the time I reached this conclusion, my daughter and her friends left the tree house pursuit behind to move onto something else. I see the tree house every day, standing as a reminder that more tests are to come.