Friday, July 17, 2009

A Brave New World

Find me a person who enjoys sitting in the dentist chair. A show of hands, please. Who likes going to the dentist?

No one? That's what I thought. You can like your dentist, but no one likes going to the dentist.

So when I left work early one day to pick up the peanut from daycare and bring her to her first ever true dentist experience, I had a bigger list of overinflated concerns than your average everyday reality show drama queen.

Why was I so worried?

Well, for starters, part of our nightly routine involves wrestling Penelope into a stranglehold position, prying her mouth open with salad spoons, and quickly brushing her teeth before she clenches her jaw shut and attempts to escape.

But at the dentist, she sat there on my lap, opened her mouth when asked, and showed just what a little trooper she can be.

Why was I so worried?

She's broadening her horizons, pushing her limits, and accepting that certain things just need to get done.

One weekend we had a couple of her friends over to run through a crazy little inflatable sprinkler playground contraption that we had set up in the backyard. Her guests were twin boys from her class at school. Boys whose names she enthusiastically mentions constantly, usually followed by words like "silly," "wrestling," and "laughing."

Why was I so worried?

The last time she had a friend from daycare at the house, she screamed in protest every time the poor kid touched one of her toys, even if she wasn't remotely interested in playing with it. So, again, we were as hesitant as an old man trying to cross a busy intersection.

Initially, she sat there and watched as the boys didn't think twice in jumping right into the frigid water, splashing and shouting and making a mess. She noticed what a good time they were having. That new things can be fun too. Then she joined in. Drinking the water. Running around like a maniac. Screaming in delight.

Why was I so worried?

That wet n' wild adventure was just the precursor to the ultimate water experience: swimming class. How am I going to convince my sometimes hesitant, often headstrong, always sure of her needs and wants, little girl that we're going to spend a half hour in the pool, and she's going to do things like dump a bucket of water over her head, jump from the side of the pool into my arms, and go underwater?

Why was I so worried?

With persistence, optimism, and enthusiasm, she did it all. We did it all.

You want your daughter to get her hair wet? Dump the bucket over your own head. You want her to jump in the pool freely and with abandon? Keep encouraging, never appear disappointed, and always reward even the most futile attempts. You want her to go underwater? It's like ripping off a Band-Aid. Just dunk the kid.

I gave her as much warning as trailer park residents may get of a tornado. "We're going to go all the way in now. Close your eyes and close your mouth." And before she had a chance to protest, we were in and out.

We burst to the surface like a submarine. She struggled to open her eyes, blinking in rapid succession, slowly spitting the water from her mouth, quietly letting out the most feeble of whines.

She wanted to freak out. But didn't. She wanted to lash out at me. But didn't. She wanted to get out of the pool. But didn't. She looked around at her peers, and realized that she would be the only one who wasn't thrilled to be soaked head to toe. And she stopped herself.

Why was I so worried?

Immediately, I turned into a propaganda machine reminiscent of a George Orwell novel. "Wasn't that great?! It's fun to go under the water, isn't it?! Let's do it again!"

OK, I was pushing it with that one. "NOOOOOO!"

She began pushing against my body in an effort to get away. "How about daddy goes under again?" And I did. And she loved it. And again. And she loved it. And again and again and again until I was getting light-headed.

The next week, she refused to hold my hand while getting into the pool, instead negotiating the submerged staircase herself. "I want to do it all by myself," she requested, repeating her mantra from the amusement park just a week before. And she did. Shortly thereafter, I plopped her on the side of the pool, and urged her to jump in. She didn't need any urging though. Without thinking twice, she jumped - fell actually - into my waiting arms.

Why was I so worried?

I couldn't contain myself. My jubilant cheers and praise echoed throughout the cavernous room that housed the swimming pool at our local YMCA. The other parents and the instructor looked on, shrugging off what they certainly perceived to be a gross overreaction by a swimming class rookie.

If she's going to be brave enough to overcome those fears, then I will be the first, the loudest, and most enthusiastic to cheer her on.

Maybe I should stop worrying so much.

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