I’m not afraid of much in this world. As a result, I’ve had some grand adventures. I’ve been smuggled into a hostile country in the dead of night in a car trunk. Eaten everything from pig brains to flash-cooked grasshoppers. Sashayed my naked butt around a nude beach. Stared down the barrel of a gun during a holdup. Traveled through war zones. Experienced the winds of a Category 5 hurricane. Given birth to two giant babies without so much as an aspirin for pain.
In other words, if you want someone to tough it out, taste something weird, try something new, or visit a place that’s dank, dark, potentially dangerous and that might involve weapons, I’m your girl.
Just don’t ask me to climb a ladder.
Because while most things that make others go weak in the knees don’t bother me a bit, I’m absolutely terrified of heights.
My husband has had to carry me down a 6-foot ladder as I wept and hyperventilated. Even standing on a chair to reach something in a high cupboard makes me feel woozy. Spying someone teetering on the edge of a steep precipice makes me clutch at my pounding heart.
Which is exactly what I found myself doing as I recently watched my 6-year-old, Mike, scamper like a mountain goat around some sandstone cliffs high above a rocky lakeshore.
“Hey mom! Look at me! Up here!” he yelled down as I watched him lean over a crumbling edge, with rocks and dirt tumbling down the steep hillside. “You should come up here! What a view!”
Then he was off again, scaling the rocks and cliffs, happy and sure-footed, not looking down, whimpering, refusing to go on and begging for mercy like I would have been. And I was struck at that moment at just how very different Mike and I are from one another.
It’s not just the fear of heights thing (though since he has been a baby, Mike has loved to dart up to the highest point of anything and get stuck as I stand on the bottom rung encouraging him to move closer to me so I can help). It’s everything. Mike and I are different at our very core.
First and foremost, Mike is extremely cautious (about everything except heights), considering every possible outcome before he so much as dips a toe in the water to test it. I’ve always been one of those people who dives in headfirst with little thought about how shallow the water might be until I hit my head on the bottom. (See the above example of being smuggled into a hostile country in a car trunk. Because getting into the country was easy. Getting out — not so much.)
Whereas Mike is extremely soft-spoken and gentle, I am loud, gregarious and can be a little rough around the edges. Mike is content, perhaps even at his happiest, when he’s sitting back and observing all that goes on around him. I have to be in the middle of it all, getting my hands dirty and talking the loudest. Mike is very independent and likes to spend a lot of time by himself. I am terrible at being alone and always have been.
If Mike is interested in something, his focus can be unshakeable. He will sit and sound out words in advanced chapter books — for hours at a time. It makes me tired just listening to him. And when he wanted to learn how to make a sheriff’s star, he sat and practiced drawing stars for hours and days until he perfected it — freehand. If I’m not good at something right away, I just move on to something else.
Mike is a mystery to me in all the ways that people who are nothing like you always seem mysterious. How is it possible for a 6-year-old, or anyone for that matter, to sit and draw stars for days on end? Isn’t it, well, a little bit boring?
When a playmate was mean to him, I couldn’t understand why Mike was infinitely patient and forgiving when I would have walked away. “He has a lot going on, mom,” Mike told me, understanding more at 6 than I often do at 38.
This small act of graciousness made me fall in love with Mike for about the gazillionth time. In fact, with every star he practices, with every steep precipice he climbs, with every word he sounds out, I fall in love with that kid all over again. Our differences amaze me, but all of the ways we are different are what I love most about him.
With his cautious and reserved nature, Mike may never voluntarily crawl into a car trunk to be smuggled into a war-torn country in the dead of night. And that’s more than OK with me. But with his quiet determination, I know Mike will grow up to fearlessly climb the tallest mountains — and he’ll probably move them too.