Yesterday, I watched my five-year-old take a leap that he only dreamed of.
Since my child was three, he has been declaring to the world his love of marine life, and his deep infatuation with sharks. Anyone who has spent any time with my wonderful child has been invited into his world of sharks as he teaches, plays, and explains the life cycle of these wonderful creatures. When he turned 4, he declared to the world that he wanted to be a marine biologist to study sharks and their life cycle. At 5, he began expanding his love of the ocean to all marine life.
He wanted to know about the life cycle of coral reefs, the components of the ocean water, the preservation of baby sea turtles, the strength of the peacock mantis shrimp, and the strength and wonder that the ocean holds. He wanted to scuba dive, but being at the young age of 5, there were limitations permitting him to learn how to scuba dive.
But I thought, let’s try the next best thing. Let’s teach you how to Olympic dive!
We went to the first class, and he was ready to learn. He jumped into the class with all the older kids like he was meant to be there. He tried to do his walking handstand and he fell. He tried to do the warm-up and he was off. He jumped on the trampoline and was exhausted, but he tried.
Finally, the kids went to the pool. He looked at the water and without hesitation, he jumped. But at that moment I was unsure if he could come back up.
My heart sank and my anxiety spiked as I waited, hoping my little five-year-old child would resurface from the 14ft deep water. A few moments later, he did, but he couldn’t tread the water. He began to panic and sink. The coaches were nearby and reached out a hand, and he was quickly rescued from the water.
At that moment, I knew he was not ready to dive, and the coaches knew he was not ready. But to my surprise, when I went to pick him up from the practice the coaches raved about his abilities. They raved about his athleticism, bravery, attentiveness, and pure joy he was to be around. I stood in anxiety and awe as I listened to their words of encouragement and hope for my five-year-old child who - from my perspective - almost drowned during his first class.
Instead, they saw a strive and determination that they wanted to cultivate.
But then the next class came; he was not as brave. He looked at the water with fear and refused to jump in. He was afraid to try again. He saw the water and only saw dread and fear, no longer possibility or hope.
I was disappointed with him and myself, feeling as though I pushed him into something that he was not ready for, but the coaches continued to enthusiastically tell me how great he was doing, even though he had now developed a fear of the water.
Each week he looked like he was regressing with the water, as the coaches did not push him or force him to jump. But they encouraged me and consistently told me to trust the process, and that when he is ready, he will jump.
Last week, he jumped! He jumped into the water from the 1-meter board and then swam out of the pool. After his class that day, he walked up to me, and said “Mommy, I am a diver!” I responded and said, “Yes, kiddo, you sure are!” I was so proud of his ability to push through his anxiety, to find confidence on the other side.
The issue with anxiety is it often becomes paralyzing. With anxiety we are robbed of experiences, as we freeze from the insurmountable unknowns. For Mateo, the unknown was drowning. These unknowns are real and not something to be mocked; but even in these anxieties, how can we - like Mateo - look the unknown in the face, and still jump? My little man moved through his anxiety, he felt the fear and still jumped because his desire to see the unexplored depths of the ocean outweighed his fear of that one-meter drop.
But his courage did not stop there, Yesterday, Mateo faced one of his greatest fears, and he jumped not from the one-meter board, but from the three-meter board! He faced his fear and conquered it. Four months ago, I watched my child tell himself that he was incapable of doing hard things. He was already certain that failure and drowning were on the other end, because he almost drowned before. But he did not stop going. He showed up afraid. He showed up with anxiety, but he showed up, willing to try and be present even in his fears.
But the greatest part of Mateo jumping into the water was not just the jump, the part that felt the most encouraging was how his community celebrated the jump. They saw him doing hard things, and they surrounded him with praise and encouragement to say that was an amazing feat because what he is doing is amazing! He is a five-year-old diver!
While I gleam with pride for the amazing thing my child did, I write this post to challenge and encourage you.
Are you afraid to jump? Did you try a hard thing, and almost drowned and then decided you were not going to try again? This is my encouragement to you: Try! Keep showing up even when it is hard, because, one day you will jump and find beauty in the bottom of the ocean. And when you jump, I hope we as a community can stop and celebrate the hard things you did.