Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time
The Grandson: WHAT?!?
Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.
The Grandson: I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit “concerned” but that’s not the same thing.
~ The Princess Bride
I watched from the water’s edge as Brooke made her way up the winding path to the slide.
Her shoulders were hunched and rounded forward. Her chin was tucked into her chest. Her eyebrows were knitted together, pulling her forehead down to meet the bridge of her nose. Huge brown eyes peered out from beneath their long lashes. Her tiny index finger was curled into her front teeth.
She walked slowly, timidly – tiny, tentative step after tentative step.
For all of her seven and a quarter years, I thought, she’s still no bigger than a minute. Longer maybe, but not bigger. She could easily have passed for five.
I watched with trepidation. I’d seen this movie before and it hadn’t ended well. Hope tried to squash my fear, but hope was getting its butt kicked. The only visible sign of courage was the (undoubtedly HUGE) fact that she was still moving forward, but she looked nervous as all get out.
Yet somewhere, in the farthest reaches of my sub-conscious, there was a guy doing an odd little happy dance.
I was in awe.
You see, while a parent doesn’t usually want to see their child nervous, as we all know, usually doesn’t carry much weight in our world. At that moment in fact, usually was meaningless. As I watched my girl gnawing on her little finger, slowly, slowly making her way forward, I was struck by an overwhelming realization.
I’d never seen her nervous before.
Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? For God’s sake I’ve got a kid with pervasive anxiety disorder. I’ve written over and over again (some might say, ‘ad nauseum’) about her nerves, right? Her anxiety and her crippling fears? We’ve dedicated hours of research (and worry and heartache) to finding ways to help her manage those anxieties enough to be able to learn, to interact, to live at least relatively comfortably.
So how could I never have seen her nervous before?
Well, because until that moment, I’d never seen Brooke STOP at nervous. She might well have passed through it, but she did so at warp speed on the express train to terrified. As fear took the reins, her entire body would tense, overtaken by adrenaline, ready for fight or flight. There was no in between. Never – not once in seven years – had I seen her just plain old run of the mill ‘nervous.’
Nervous is middle ground. Nervous is where we all live sometimes – the space where impulse and self-protection battle it out, where blind courage is tempered by the human need to live another day. Nervous is reasonable, manageable. Turns out that when you’re Brooke, nervous is even really cute.
So despite everything happening that day, in that moment there was a tiny little happy dance – a celebration of a stop at the middle ground, and a hope that we can find our way there again.