Our first full week of home school ended on Friday. These first five days stirred up many of my fears for the upcoming year. Fear of B pushing every boundary, as I know she is inclined to do. Fear of the ensuing conflict when I enforce boundaries and help her re-formulate what it means to learn. Fear that I am not up to the task of dividing my teaching time and talents (which I freely admit are few to begin with). Fear that B will hate homeschooling. Fear that this year will be an unmitigated failure. Can you tell the week did not go well? Tears on 3 out of 5 days is not what I was hoping for. I knew the adjustment would be hard. I just didn't know it would be this difficult.
On our way to church today, I remembered the single blog post that I'd written in Tobago and never posted. Aptly enough, it dealt with fear - and conquering it. Here's what I wrote back on August 3rd.
Today I stood up to fear, but let shame beat me.
On day 3 of our Tobago experience, we opted for a tour. Our plan was to snorkel, ride a glass bottomed boat and tour the old English fort, Fort King George. I had read in our guidebook that you could drive all the way around Tobago in four hours, but that you would never want to do so. I found this statement a bit puzzling until I spent an hour and a half riding in the back of a sedan as we sped along the coast, navigating switchback after switchback as we made our way from one end of the island to another. We passed numerous villages along the way, but were rarely out of sight of the ocean. The Tobagonian winding way reminded me of what my mother said about a road in my own hometown, "You have to wonder why they wanted the road as close as possible to the water every inch of the way." I did wonder that today - more than once.
We all four arrives in Speyside a bit nauseous and more than ready to be out of the car. I'm not sure any of us envisioned a boat ride as the ideal solution for our ill-treated equilibrium. Yet after 10 minutes or so to change, we stepped aboard a boat for what would be my first snorkeling experience.
The friends with us had each snorkeled before - not extensively, but a time or two. J and I were novices, but I (arrogantly?) thought it sounded rather easy - breathe through a tube and look through a mask. How hard could it be? I grew up near the water (hence the aforementioned winding beach roads) and I'm a fairly confident, if not consistent, swimmer.
I listened as the guides explained how to put our masks on. I either wasn't listening or missed altogether the explanation of how to actually breathe without inhaling salt water. So my first attempt yielded a mouthful of brine and a skittish me. After asking for a bit of help, I was able to do it, but only when I pushed past the fear that rose up every single time I needed to put my face down into the water. I tried to minimize the need for this by staying in position with my face immersed, but it's impossible to see where you are when looking straight down into the water. So I needed to occasionally look up - to see where I was in relation to the boat, to locate J, T and M, to decide whether I re-orient. Every time I wanted to go back to snorkeling after a short break above water, a bit of fear would bubble up inside me - fear that I wouldn't be able to breathe, that my mask would full with water, that I wouldn't be biting the mouthpiece hard enough to keep my mouth from flooding.
I would steel myself and push past the fear and put my face down. Then I would focus on the comforting sound of my own breathing and its rhythm - a slow inhale, a slow exhale - echoing in my ears to the exclusion of all else. It calmed me and I was able to focus on the coral, the fish and the sea life.
We only snorkeled at the first stop for a few minutes before heading to another location near a large reef with several types of coral. I did better on our second outing, but still had to push past fear to put my face in and get started. I did it anyway and was proud of myself that I didn't let the fear stop me.
There are things for me to hold on to and remember from this. First and foremost, that I can choose to let fear keep me from some really great experiences or I can choose to reach for the experience in spite of the fear. I also think it's telling that (as I reference in the first sentence, but never got around to explaining) I fought the fear, but I let shame win.
After snorkeling, we stopped at Argyle Falls. We hiked through the rain forest and reached a lovely waterfall. The guide didn't offer to hike up the falls with us, but pointed the way for those interested. J, T and M perked up immediately. I, on the other hand, had been slipping and sliding my way over wet rocks with a camera in one hand and my balance compromised and I felt defeated before I even thought about hiking up two levels. It didn't help my shame that I was by far the least athletic of our quartet. I was embarrassed and felt I'd hold the others back. Without so much as a second thought, I encouraged the other three to go ahead without me. They had a great time and came down satisfied and soaked - having been caught in a surprise rainfall in the rainforest.
The lesson here? I feel fear as an invasive presence - and I can push through the barriers it puts in front of me. Shame, on the other hand, is so much a constant companion that I often don't even realize until after the fact that I've let go of the driving wheel and put shame in charge.
I don't want to let shame keep me from doing my best to teach B - even when she throws some curveballs at me. (Last week, she complained that I should not workout during the day because teachers don't do that.) I think I can push past my fear that our year will fail. But I'll have to be far more vigilant to recognize shame's insidious presence, whispering in my ear at every turn, sabotaging me before I ever start.