Making a Clay Mold
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The Fun of Fear
“Let’s go zip lining! That looks fun!”
Oh, such innocent words. The beau liked my suggestion and booked two spots for us on a Saturday morning.
We were both a little trepidatious; the beau more so due to his unease with heights. But lately we’ve both gotten into trying new, slightly adventurous activities that make us uncomfortable. We tried parasailing two years ago, which addressed his fear of heights and my fear of water. It was scary but fun, and we assumed this would be a similar experience.
And it was...kind of.
It was more than just hooking ourselves up to a line and zipping over a lake; it was a two-hour long "treetop adventure experience" hosted by a company called Go Ape. This experience included climbing up rope ladders, swinging into nets, and crossing over rickety bridges from one tree to the next.
After an orientation by Rachael, the most excited and enthusiastic young woman I've ever encountered, we began with the first obstacle, called the "Tarzan Swing." After climbing up a tree via a rope ladder (okay, this is already hard), I hooked up my caribiners to a rope and, with great terror and swearing, stepped off a perfectly good platform and swung into a giant net wall. I climbed up the net like a clumsy spider and made it to the next platform.
Already shaking from fear, adrenaline, and using muscles in a way not currently utilized in any of my workouts, I hooked myself up to the first zip line that would propel me over a lake. Oh good, the possibility of drowning is still an option!
The beau had tackled the "Tarzan Swing" and was on the platform with me. This was the first time of many that he said, "What have you gotten us into?" Yeah, I was wondering that myself.
I stood looking at the task before me and really didn't know how I was going to do it. I called down to peppy Rachael for a few words of encouragement. "Just let go!" was her brilliant response.
"Um, yeah, but I'm really scared."
"I know. Just let go!"
Well, okay then. Just let go! And I did.
I shut my eyes and screamed, but by the time I flew over the couple in the canoe (who were probably equally terrified by the hysterical woman flying over them), I was actually enjoying it! Yes, it was scary, but it was also exhilarating.
I had spun around in flight and ended up facing backwards so when I reached the landing on the other side, I dragged my heels on the ground in an attempt to slow down, but slammed back first into the mulch pretty forcefully nonetheless. And this is how I landed. Every. Single. Time. For the next four landings.
After the beau zipped across, we wiped the mulch off ourselves and carried on. We climbed up the next tree laughing, trembling, wondering why we were doing this but proud of ourselves for doing it.
As we continued our adventure, the trees got higher, the platforms got narrower, and the obstacles got tougher. We stepped nervously across a swaying log. We teetered uncertainly across a thin swaying rope. We reached gingerly from one small swaying plank onto the next small swaying plank. I think we swayed in our sleep that night.
In between the obstacles there were more zip lines back and forth across the lake, which, by this time, were akin to lounging on a couch eating bonbons. Albeit a couch that kicks you in the back repeatedly and fills your shorts with mulch. The zip lines I had been so terrified to ride had become my favorite part. They were fun, obstacle-free breaks during which all I really had to do was “just let go!” I even stopped screaming and kept my eyes open.
Did I mention the rain? It started about halfway through the course. The Go Ape employees on the ground were woo-hoo-ing up to us and trying to convince us all how much more fun the adventure would be in the rain, but we weren’t so sure. Now on top of everything else, it was wet and possibly slippery. Woo-hoo, indeed.
The beau and I were worn out by this time. We hadn’t expected this to be such a physical and mental workout. Our hands were sore from climbing up rope ladders and gripping on to every surface for dear life. Adrenaline had been coursing through our veins for nearly two hours and now the rain was making us even more nervous. The difference between this and parasailing was that for the latter, we literally just had to sit there and enjoy the view. We flew above the ocean for a few minutes and were reeled back into the boat. This, on the other hand, was work. And it kept going on and on and on.
At one point toward the end, I really thought I was going to start having an anxiety attack. I had packed an emergency dosage of Xanax just in case, as I’ve been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks for years. There is no shame at all in taking medication for anxiety; I take it religiously when I fly or when I’m going to be onstage…or when I’m going to parasail. However, I also try to challenge myself and not take it whenever possible. I’ve learned how to breathe deeply and talk to myself until I start to calm down. Now if that doesn’t work, Xanax is my best friend. But in this moment, I breathed deeply, moved slowly and carefully, and said to myself, okay, okay, okay, you can do this. In fact, I even took a moment to snap a selfie. I was wet and scared and exhausted, but I powered through and finished the course.
When we finally reached the end, the beau and I felt a great sense of accomplishment. We had faced our fears and come out the other side, relatively unscathed. We had sore muscles, a few bruises, and mulch wedged in every crevice, but we had actually had fun.
Throughout the day, I had been counting my steps across the swaying planks (a simple but effective tool that helps me cope with anxiety) and, more often than not, I reached the other side before I counted to 12. Twelve scary steps led to safety on the other side. It was like so many things in life.
Experiencing anything we consider negative—pain, fear, anxiety, terror, despair—is temporary. And there are ways to get through the thick of it to make it more tolerable. You can breathe deeply, medicate, meditate, pray, or scream and swear like a sailor. But regardless of how you get through it, you will get through it. There is always a safe landing on the other side.
So you’re scared? Just let go! You’re worried about making mistakes? Just let go! You’re afraid to face your fears? Just let go!
You don’t think you can just let go? Go ahead and try it. You might even find you enjoy it.
I'd like to believe that every twenty-something embarking on parenthood has the same ideals as me: to make the coolest, most badass kids on the planet. Of course I want to raise intelligent, proactive, caring little people, and because I have sons, it also really matters to me that they are sensitive and respectful and peaceful. But let's face it, that stuff is in the genes. All I really have control over is their cool factor. Getting knocked up in a yurt at the age of 22 and spending my first week in a family way wandering the streets of Amsterdam meant that I was surely on the right track to having some really radical children. So when my sons showed signs of being obsessed with sweatpants and Bob the Builder, I panicked a little. Parenting disaster! What was I doing wrong?
While rocking back and forth in the corner of my room for a few days, I did some serious soul searching and came up with this incredibly useful style guide for myself and the parents of the world. If you care about the coolness of your kid, then read these five tips. You'll thank me. Or not, because sometimes saying "thank you" isn't as cool as a head nod.
1. Let Them Drink from Glass
Everybody knows that mason jars are so cool they're almost uncool, but are still definitely cool. If I'm at home, you might find me drinking a yerba mate with local maple syrup in vintage ceramic, but c'mon, I wouldn't be caught dead with a travel mug out in public. And those containers designed to look like they're disposable? Please. Glass is the coolest way to go, even for kids. Glass bottles are real for a reason, mom and dad. Get on board.
Even if your three year old is holding a wide mouth jar by the rubber plug contraption for your stainless steel drinkable lid and drops the whole thing and shatters glass all over the street where hundreds of people are dancing, some barefoot, to local music in front of a historic theatre, he's still gonna be the envy of all those kids with dinky little plastic sippy cups. He might be thirsty the rest of the night because he watered the pavement instead of himself, but trust me, everybody there will know that you are serious about raising some stylish, not to mention eco-conscious (read: exra cool), little kiddos.
2. Transport Them Alternatively
I'm a pretty serious biker. I don't have any spandex or neon clothes and I'm constantly taking things off of my bike to make it sleek and beautiful instead of adding things to make it efficient and useful, but I still consider myself a real biker. I commute almost everywhere I have to go on my two-wheeled steed, hauling everything in my cart from groceries and softball gear to children and more children. Of course safety is important, so I helmet and strap those chitluns, even if I think they look a little geeky. They would look decidedly less cool with neck braces.
When I'm riding around town with my kids, I know that I am the envy of every mother stuck in a station wagon or minivan, wishing she could just stretch her legs on the open road hauling upwards of 100 pounds of very valuable flesh. I know this because a lot of people wave and smile, completely approving our stellar alternativeness. I also know that when people get really mad at me for taking up the lane and yell things like "You're not a car!" or "You're gonna kill your kids!" they're just jealous that my children are way cooler than theirs. Seriously, safety is really important to me, I am very cautious with my kids. But coolness is super duper important to me, too, which is why it's even better when my kids are on their own wheels. Then we're all equally visible in our awesomeness!
3. Put Their Pictures on the Web
A kid on instagram is a kid destined for coolness. My kids are so recognizable to the general internet population, they're only one step away from being the next teen pop stars. I know that some people worry about internet predators, but I tend to not get too bent out of shape about that stuff. I mean, they're always fully clothed, and it's not like they have their own handles or anything (although extra points to any parent who can get someone else to hashtag their offspring).
My sons are so adept at the importance of social media that if I pause from sharing a special moment with them to take a picture of it in order to show everybody how special our moment is, they're right with me and say "Put it on Facebook!" or "That should be your new homepage!" I have no doubt that when they finally get their own phones or Google glasses or forearm chips, they will never share anything dull.
Want to boost everybody's coolness by association? Throw yourself into a few pics with some parent-child selfies. The family who views life through photo filters together, stays together.
4. Dress Them Like Studs, Not Duds
Clothing is the window into someone's character. We've all seen people with whom we might otherwise become friends were it not for them wearing yesterday's workout clothes and carrying around a Jansport backpack. I don't judge books by their covers, and I've trudged through my fair share of stylistically challenged phases, but I want my kids to have an easy life. I want people to know at first sight that they are cool and worthy of positive attention. I want it to be simple for them to get dates and job interviews, and then later charm everybody with their wise world views and charisma.
Sure, I went into debt opening a children's clothing store so that I could have wholesale access to this country's best and freshest ethical and stylish designers, but it was worth it. My kids look hip. Plus, I read to them a lot. I'm sure they'll get scholarships for college.
5. Teach Them About Rock and Roll
Have you ever wanted to date somebody because they gave Kenny Loggins CDs as gifts or camped out in line for Nickelback tickets? No? Well duh, that's because those people are unabashedely uncool. Music is the number one barometer (after fashion, of course) for coolness, so it's not worth letting your kids listen to anything frumpy. Children's albums are generally absent of anything cool, unless they are by otherwise cool artists like Kimya Dawson or They Might Be Giants.
What's that, kids, you want to hear another verse of Raffi? Sorry, boys, mama wants Radiohead.
My kids are so cool that at this point they can dance like Michael Jackson and sing from their knees along with greats like Steve Perry and Pharrell. In our living room, fists are bumping and chords are strumming. There's no time for mind numbing music like lullabies. My kids go to sleep serenaded by my best versions of Arctic Monkeys and hits from Godspell or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Nevermind if my oldest is still nervous when I mention Pink Floyd because at the age of three he thought an intruder was asking "Is there anybody out there?" Cool is cool, and I won't let my children miss out on being at the forefront of music. Besides, what do I know about life that they can't learn from Modest Mouse, Led Zeppelin, or the Beatles?
At the end of the day, our children are reflections of us, for better or worse. I say make it better, mold them into the cool kids you always wished you could be. Spare them the agony of getting beaten up in high school and shunned at office Christmas parties. When in doubt, combine as many of the above tips as possible, cramming so much coolness into your little ones that they'll be crapping it out with their strawberry kale chia seed smoothie.
And if all else fails, love them. Love them for being cool, love them for being awkward, love them for being like you, love them for not. Kindness and compassion and trust and love are by far the most fashionable accessories you could ever use to adorn your children. Generation Rad is growing up in a world of openness and confidence, the likes of which maybe most of us were not lucky enough to be exposed. Despite what the people who stand at the fringe of a dance party might say, hugs and kisses are super cool. If you model positive relationships, then your kids will learn how to be righteous friends, and that's the coolest thing the world needs.
Skinny jeans and a good haircut are just icing on the cake.