Our dog, Oompa, as in Oompa Loompa, is no young pup. He’s 14, nearly deaf, and spends most his days lounging on pillows found around the house. Each morning, he goes outside to do his business. He sniffs around a bit, eats some grass and then usually comes right back to the door. Today was different. I waited and watched, but he didn’t show up. After a while I walked to the back door to see what he was up to. Our yard is fenced, so I figured in all likelihood, he was just pestering the chickens. As I looked all around, I saw the back gate wide open. Oompa was off on a joy ride.
Years ago this situation would have made me panic, but these days Oompa is pretty slow. I walked out the gate, hot on his trail, and immediately saw him taking a leak on the telephone pole. His expression was pure bliss. He looked young and joyful in the midst of his newfound freedom. He was seizing the moment, peeing on bushes, flowers, every blade of grass in sight, sniffing earth, and walking with more swagger in his steps. The gate was open and he marched bravely into the world to see what he could discover. He didn’t overthink the situation. He didn’t say, “Hmmm. This could be dangerous! Will there be cars? Cats? I LOVE chasing cats! Will I get hurt? Will I get lost?” No. I think if Oompa could talk, he would have said, “Hells to the yeah! Hello, world!”
This got me thinking on all the gates in our lives that are standing wide open. Waiting. Waiting for us to seize the day and walk bravely through them and toward the unknown. Apparently, I’ve done a great job raising a brave dog. But what about raising brave kids? As I listen to myself throughout the day and I hear excessive words of caution:
Slow down! Be careful! Don’t fall! Hold on tight! Don’t get hurt! That’s too high!
I get panicked as they run down the sidewalk, just waiting for the stumble and the bloody knees. I imagine the immanent doom as they cruise at one mile per hour in battery operated kid cars and down bumpy sidewalks on their bikes. For the love of all things, BE CAREFUL! DON’T JUMP OFF YOUR DRESSER! Day after day I proclaim that a safe choice is better than a risky choice.
But is it?
I do want my kids to be safe. But I can’t protect them from life. They have to live. To be. I can’t roll them tightly in bubble wrap and send them out into the world. Risk and change and adventure are part of life too. Some of the best parts, really. And so, I decided that if I hope to raise brave children, I’d have to commit to finding my own kind of brave. Because kids watch and do what they see before them. When a gate opens before me, I have a tendency to overthink. To run through every possible situation in my mind before making a decision. This can be a blessing – I’m not often rash or careless. But it can also be a curse. I talk myself out of opportunities because my mind gets in the way of my heart.
Recently, Jamie and I were driving home from an appointment when we saw a brewery up ahead. The kids were not in tow and as we got closer, we had a 5 second conversation about what we should do. Keep driving home as planned? Stop for a beer? My mind whispered that we were already running late. We needed to get home. But then I remembered Oompa. The gate opened wide. We seized the moment, whipped our champagne mini-van into that brewery parking lot and ran in there like two people celebrating their 21st birthdays. We were breathless and giddy with our good fortune. We drank a beer, we talked in complete sentences, we laughed and then went on our way. But we savored that wide open gate. Of course, we knew the outcome of our choice. A great beer and a great memory. What makes true bravery so difficult is that we are faced with an element of uncertainty.
Sometimes bravery is just getting out of bed and walking down the steps to face an entire floor of your home that has matchbox cars and tiny dinosaurs scattered about on every square inch. Sometimes bravery is talking to someone new after yoga and then inviting them to have coffee with you. Sometimes bravery is boarding a plane and spending 9 hours cooped up with a 2 and 3 year old beside you (this is also called insanity). Sometimes bravery is saying no. Sometimes bravery is saying yes. Sometimes bravery is making a big dinner for a gathering of dear friends. Sometimes bravery is cooking Kraft Mac N Cheese for your crazy family while kids scream and cling to your weary legs. And sometimes bravery is having dinner at Chick-Fil-A on a Wednesday night. Sometimes bravery is writing your truths and sharing them with others. Bravery can be small, simple acts. It can be enormous and life changing. Each day, I have to work with intention to find my brave.
And a crazy thing is happening. In celebrating bravery, I’ve started celebrating life. I’ve found new joys and interests, I’ve been more intentional with my time. It’s brought unexpected friendships into my life. It’s helping me become myself.
While young, impressionable eyes are watching, I hope they see a brave Mama. I hope they see that it’s alright to be afraid – we all feel that way sometimes. But I hope that their fear never stifles them, never stops them from pursuing the life they can imagine for themselves. I hope they learn to bravely face their fears.
Last week, Jackson had his four year check up at the doctor. We were driving over to the office talking about what would happen when we got there.
Jackson asked me, “Will they check how big and strong I am, Mommy?”
“Yes, baby,” I told him. We talked a bit more and I explained he’d be getting a few shots that day. I told him it would hurt for just a second and then it would be over. That Mommy and monkey and bear would be right there with him. I looked in the rearview mirror to see tears welling up in his big blue eyes. He wiped them away with the back of his hand.
“Will I get a sticker after the shot, Mommy?” he asked quietly.
And then he sat up a little taller. “I’ll go and be brave, Mommy.”
And he was. He climbed up on that paper-covered bench and laid down, long and lean. He held monkey and bear and both of my hands. He squeezed his eyes shut, got 3 shots and lived to tell about it. He found his brave.
Sweet boys, may you notice the world around you, bravely. May you help a friend who needs you, bravely. May you reach out to people and dream your biggest dreams, bravely. May you face those horrible shots at the doctor’s office, bravely. May your heart feel strong and sure of itself. May you climb endless trees, take off those training wheels, walk through open gates and say, just like I imagine Oompa would, “Hells to the yeah! Hello, world!”
Thank you, Oompa. For reminding us that gates are meant to be strolled through and savored ever so bravely.