One of my favorite Frog and Toad stories is “Dragons and Giants.” It begins with Frog and Toad looking at themselves in a mirror, wondering whether they’re brave. To find out, they go on an adventure up a mountain where they have scary encounters with an avalanche, a snake, and a hawk. At each turn they stand their ground and yell, “I am not afraid,” until finally, convinced that they are in fact brave, they run back home and hide under the covers.
My last post was about coping strategies that kids and adults use to minimize or deny the big, unavoidable fears in life. I was thinking over the weekend, though, that there are also two, somewhat opposing ways to confront those fears head on, the way Frog and Toad did.
The first, I think, is to make long-term plans, and to invest in relationships most of all. The most calamitous moment of my life was when I found out that my mom had died, seven years ago this month. I’ve written before about how in the aftermath of her death, the only way forward seemed to be to start building our family again. Two years later, Caroline and I got married, and less than a year after that, Jay was born. Forming relationships and giving yourself over to other people, even knowing that they can be taken from you in a second, seems to me to be the best way to say, “I am not afraid.”
If the first way is to make long-term plans, I think the second is to act spontaneously. On Sunday morning, while still in our pajamas, Caroline and I were talking about how much we missed being in Maine. Our summer there was feeling far away, when Caroline remembered that the beach is just 100 miles from our house, and pointed out that we didn’t actually have any plans that day.
Routine is one of my biggest coping strategies. I think that if I can get my daily schedule calibrated just right, and stick to it, I can guard against life spiraling out of control. But the pull of the beach was powerful, so I took the boys into the backyard while Caroline did some research online. An hour later we pulled out of the driveway, with directions to a seafood restaurant just outside of Charleston written on an index card.
Two hours after we left home, we were eating crab cakes on a deck overlooking a waterway lined with shrimp boats. And after that we drove to the beach. The approach was lined with palmetto trees, which still haven’t gotten old. Caroline and I shared a moment of disbelief, that in the time it takes to go grocery shopping, we’d arrived in a scene that felt like a vacation. The ocean was still warm on the first weekend in November, and Jay and Wally quickly partnered with an eight-year-old girl who had come well-equipped with sand shovels.
The rest of the afternoon featured some stressful moments, but overall felt triumphant. It feels good to say, sometimes, that you’re not afraid to make your own way through the day.