Last weekend, we flew to Charlotte, N.C., to spend the long weekend with close family friends. Time with them is always a treat, as our kids line up almost perfectly in age, and they look forward to our visits as much as we do. Most of the weekend was spent with little planned: time playing outside, swimming in a friends’ pool, a couples dinner out, and lazy breakfasts spent chatting over coffee.
Monday was our last full day there, and our friends had planned to take us to the National Whitewater Center (http://usnwc.org/) which is located 30 minutes from their house, and is an amazing facility. They explained that there was lots to do, including a man-made river boasting Class I- Class IV rapids and a plethora of ropes courses, climbing walls, and mountain biking trails to challenge folks of all ages.
Since the rafting reservation wasn’t until later in the day, we collectively decided to focus our morning time on the ropes courses, which I’ve never done. Given that I’ve spent my entire life being terrified of heights, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of spending any more time than absolutely necessary above ground in a harness, tip-toeing across wires so thin that they looked like power lines.
Initially, I thought I was off the hook when I realized you had to wear close-toed shoes, and I had left my sneakers at home. Much to my dismay, a perky blonde behind the counter said in a cheerful Southern accent, “Mame, we can rent yooo some sport shooooes for $8 if yooo would like.” I knew there would be no way out. Reluctantly, I put on the shoes, and went to catch up with the others, who had gone ahead.
The first stop was the gear area, where I needed a helmet, a harness, and a whole bunch of clips. The construction-style helmets were in bins, assorted by colors and sizes, and I looked around, wondering if Bob The Builder was somewhere in the crowd. After I found a helmet that was suitable. I tackled finding a harness that fit. Once it was on, I did as others were doing, and tightened it up. I was suddenly aware that my rear-end was being squeezed simultaneously together and upwards, and while I’ve never contemplated having an ass-lift, perhaps this is what it might feel like. The last step was involved having some guy load me up with a bunch of ropes and caribiners, which left me feeling weighted down, and looking like an oversize key ring.
We were off, and on the first course, I managed to escape, offering to watch from the ground and take pictures. It was an intermediate course, so I naturally panicked that my kids had bypassed the beginner choice, but they were amazing. Even my seven-year old went along at a good pace, following the directions of our friend Kim (who is also her godmother).
At the next course, I knew my luck was out, and I was going to have to participate. I started feeling nauseous when I saw what lay ahead, but I cheerfully masked my fears because my older daughter was with me, and let me know she wanted me to go behind her to help her out in the event that she needed a hand. Clearly, the only person who needed help was me, because in a snap, Whitney was off, practically sauntering across the wire, calling back over her shoulder, “C’mon mom, this will be FUN!”
I don’t know if the woman behind me could see my knees knocking, but she gently encouraged me, and thank goodness for her kind words. If you’ve ever done a ropes course you know that once you’re on the track, you have to complete it. The only alternative once I took my first step was to start screaming that I’d gone “Coo Coo for Cocoa Puffs” in which case, someone would have come to rescue me with a ladder while everyone else on the course waited impatiently while they hauled me out of there. My children and their positive attitudes meant that backing out was not an option.
One baby step at a time, I made it across the first two sections fairly unscathed, despite sweating through my shirt. I was certain I was walking on dental floss, and that I would undoubtedly go plummeting 40 feet to my death at any time. On the third section, there were a series of steps, and then there was a balance beam in the middle that was suspended in the air. “HOW am I supposed to get across this one, Whit?” I asked in a meek voice. Her reply was short and sweet, “Mom, it’s a balance beam. Just pretend you’re at gymnastics.” For that split-second, I wished I has actually told my daughter that I was so uncoordinated as a child that my mother knew well enough not to enroll me in gymnastics, choosing a boys soccer team for me instead. Thanks to some stupid parenting book where the author had recommended always putting a positive spin on everything you’ve done, from math to sports, I had failed to mention this. About halfway over the balance beam section, I felt completely nauseous, and was certain a bout of projectile vomiting was in my immediate future. Then I saw my daughter patiently waiting for me on the other side, and I realized for the first time that I needed her support desperately because I didn’t believe enough in my own ability to complete the course. Slowly, she talked me in.
On the final section of the course, it dawned on me that I might actually survive the outing. Visions of being confined to a wheelchair after a traumatic fall slowly melted away, and I actually started to think about what I might have for lunch once I made it out alive. The last bit felt to be the hardest section, so I found a mental zone, focusing on a tree in front of me. Then, just as I began to relax a bit, I heard my younger daughter calling my name over and over. “Mom, look at me! Mom, can’t you look over here? Mom, WHY aren’t you looking?” Even though my logic was not rational, I still felt my life might be in danger, and there was no way in hell I was going to acknowledge the persistent pleas to turn around and lose my balance. Eventually, I heard a woman near my daughter ask, “Which one is your mom?” Followed by, “Oh…honey, she looks like she is really concentrating!”
When all was said and done, and my foot touched the final platform of the course, I was overcome with relief that it was over. It dawned on me that when my husband bought me a book called “The Worst Case Scenario Handbook” a few years ago, it was a depressingly fitting gift for me. While I won’t be running back to a ropes course anytime soon, never say never. With my children cheering me on, anything might be possible. even for a girl who may feel her best with both feet on the ground.