One of my favorite conversations I’ve had recently was about courage being just as much about saying No as it is about saying Yes. It’s a courage conversation I’ve had before in theory and that recently manifested itself on our trip to Jarabacoa* (pronounced har-ah-ba-CO-ah) a couple of weeks back.
I watched the unfaltering enthusiasm in her smile as Ropes Guy harnessed her up. I was proud of her – worried – but proud. She walked up the wooden staircase with confidence, helmet already on as if not to waste time, and when she reached the top, she completely changed her mind.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Are you sure?” I asked as middle of the line as I could, not wanting to influence her.
The worry I had just felt in my bones for her had turned to disappointment – not in her but for her. I hadn’t made up how much she wanted to zip line off of this wooden mountain staircase a moment ago and now she was turning around and climbing back down. Maybe I should push. Maybe I should tell her to be brave and jump and go forth and say Yes because she’d be happy if she did it; I knew that, but I also wanted her to make that decision for herself and not let someone else influence her choice. I wanted her to trust herself, to do it because she knew she could, not because I knew she could. Or I wanted her to not do it if she didn’t want to, whichever she chose. Me? I was fine no matter what she decided.
The He-Babe was being harnessed as his sister made her way back down the stairs. And though she’s only four, it is a powerful lesson to learn at any age and one that gets easier in life the more it is practiced:
coming back down – admitting you’re not ready – takes as much courage as leaping when you’re scared.
We are unintentionally taught that courage means to do something in spite of your fears, but what if courage is many things. What if courage is also admitting your fear, knowing you’re not ready, climbing back down and admitting defeat… at least for today. I would hate to teach my kids that in order to be brave they have to jump. Instead I’d rather them know that listening to their voice is brave – jump or no jump. Saying yes is brave but so is saying no.
Husband and I both looked at her. “We’re very proud of you.”
“Proud?” She questioned, wondering what pride was as much as why we had it for her.
“Yes. Because you’re very brave.”
“I’m brave?” She asked, eyes glowing. Most likely because she was conjuring images of Disney’s Merida in her playful mind.
“Yes. It’s brave to say no to something you’re not sure about or ready for.”
She stood with me at the bottom and watched her brother climb the woooden mountain. I wasn’t sure what he would do but 2-year-olds aren’t that thoughtful about decision making. Ziiiiippppp. There he went, across the river. We cheered him on and laughed as he zipped across. She, being his biggest fan. Then, she watched another friend zip across and then another, cheering and laughing them all to the other side.
“I’m brave?” She asked again looking for more clarity on the topic.
“Yes.” We reinforced. “Brave isn’t always doing. There is courage in No.”
On the return, before her brother’s feet landed safely on the platform she had decided, “I want to go now.”
“Ok,” I agreed, “If you want…”
We took her back to Ropes Guy and watched her suit up again. Legs through the harness. Clipped in. Big smile. Again, she walked up the wooden staircase with confidence, helmet already on as if not to waste time and when she reached the top, she kept going.
On our way back to our room, she brought it up again, knowing the answer but wanting to hear the compliment anyway, “You were proud of me today?”
“Yes,” I encouraged.
“Because I didn’t do it?”
“Because you didn’t want to do it and said no and didn’t do it until you felt ready. You trusted yourself and that is courageous.”
“It takes courage to say no?” She repeated as if she were memorizing the lesson.
“Yes. There is courage in no.”
~ UNTIL THE NEXT BOTTLE ~
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- Jarabacoa is a town in the center of Dominican Republic, located in the province of La Vega.
- I’m quite scared of anything that I don’t feel in control of like this horseback ride with She-Babe. Don’t let the picture fool you – there was a guide holding the reigns the whole time (other than for the picture which I yelled at him to not let go – hence my expression). I Ahhh-ed and Whooooa-ed so much that She-Babe tried to comfort me by saying, “Oh Mami.” The truth is I was braver before having kids – but not by much.