“Okay, so when you get up there, you have to tell yourself that the thoughts in your head are lying to you because that’s what fear does: It lies!”
I spoke these words to my son as we climbed the many stairs to the top of the platform. We were at Great Wolf Lodge for an impromptu, family Christmas weekend getaway. I wanted to take the kids to see Santa, to witness the magic of indoor snow and take family pictures by the lodge’s beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The trip was supposed to serve as a Christmas Village excursion- to make up for the lack of all things Christmas at my own house this year, tree included. It was probably a result of Covid fatigue that I just wasn’t feeling the spirit of things magical at my own home. Fortunately for me, Great Wolf Lodge is in driving distance, and I knew I could find some Christmas magic there.
But as soon as I told the kids we were headed to Great Wolf Lodge’s Snowland for a weekend of water, snow and Holiday cheer, my youngest, Emmet had one thing and one thing only on his mind, and it was not Christmas cheer. Rather, he couldn’t stop thinking about THE WOLF TAIL! The Wolf Tail is an insane waterside in which the floor drops beneath you and you free-fall 20 feet before riding the remainder of the slide with twists and turns to keep your heart racing. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Nor is it for their mothers!
Emmet has had his eye on this waterslide for years, and as soon as he heard about our getaway, he became obsessed with it. Our family Christmas trip became all about The Wolf Tail. He spent countless hours viewing YouTube videos of other brave, young boys and girls taking the plunge. He then spent countless hours talking about it. Day in and day out, he told anyone who would listen about his waterslide goal. Everyone was excited for him. Many didn’t believe he would do it. I personally hoped he wouldn’t. You see, I just wanted some family fun and Christmas pictures. And I am also what they call an anxious mom.
I fear realistic things like my kids falling down and scraping their knees or breaking a bone or two. But I also have unrealistic fears, such as Emmet’s bathing suit getting stuck on a crevice of the waterslide and giving him a wedgie so forceful that he will be infertile for life! Or worse- the entire slide malfunctions such that Emmet is stuck for hours upon hours and I have to just stare at the slide wondering how my baby boy is holding up! Or yes, even the unimaginable—my healthy, 11-year-old, 70-pound boy has a heart attack caused by his fear. That could happen, couldn’t it?
My fears didn’t matter, though. Emmet had made up his mind: He was going to do it— no matter what!
During his first attempt to ride the waterslide, Emmet hopped into the platform and the lifeguard closed the door. He stared down at the floor, which would soon disappear from beneath his feet and send him on his 20-foot free-fall and he quickly put his hands up and yelled “no, I can’t do it!” Part of me was happy he bailed because my heart was racing, too. But the look of disappointment in his eyes made me reconsider. It was during this moment that I decided we could not leave until he conquered his fear.
So up to the slide we walked, again. This time Emmet was visibly shaking. The fear was taking over.
“I can’t do it mom. I think I will just watch a few people do it and then I will go down the other slide,” he said.
I had to be his cheering section. “I know you can do it, Emmet! You just have to take deep breaths and remember God is with you. It will be over in a few minutes, and you will be fine. Remember the fear will tell you lies. Don’t believe them! You got this!”
I have never in my 18 years of parenting worked so hard to convince one of my children to do something that I, 100%, did not want them to do. But I knew how badly he wanted this. I knew that when fear hadn’t snuck its ugly lies into his head, the waterslide looked fun and exciting to my son. I knew that if we went home and he didn’t meet his goal, he would be devastated. Embarrassed. Mad at himself. Full of regret. I know that feeling all too well. I know what it feels like to let fear and the lies it tells take over and block you from reaching a goal. I didn’t want that for my beautiful, brave son. So, I told him everything I know about fear. I wanted to teach him exactly how to say F you to it. To control his thoughts and his breathing and live boldly and bravely with intention. And I was not going to leave until he conquered his fear, just like the warrior I know he can be!
When we got to the top of the platform, there was a short line. I stared at my son and wondered what he was thinking. And as I watched him stare down at the floor and tie the strings of his bathing suit extra tight, it happened. Something clicked. I saw it in his eyes, his hands, the way he was standing. “I am going to do it, mom,” he said. And I knew he meant it. Then he did it. He hopped into the slide and as soon as I heard the floor drop I impulsively let out an equally loud “ HOLY SHIT!” and ran over to the ledge to see him come out at the bottom of the slide.
When his ride had finished, he ran to me as fast as he could with arms wide open and gave me the biggest hug I have ever received. His mouth moved a mile a minute, expressing how proud of himself he was, how great the slide was, and how he just had to do it again and again. He told me how much he loved me, too. He was a boy empowered.
I wanted Emmet to bottle up this feeling and always remember that fear is a liar. “Now you can do anything, Emmet! Next time you are scared to do something, remember this moment and how great it feels. And remember how fear lied to you—because it will try to lie to you again. But now, you know better!”
This was not the sort of Christmas magic I had imagined when we planned our winter getaway. And when my youngest initially was more enamored by the waterslide than by the Christmas spirit of Great Wolf Lodge, I thought maybe we had outgrown holiday magic in my family altogether. Not so! Witnessing my son face his fear and win- THAT’s magic. I’ll take that Christmas magic any year. Then I’ll wrap up the gifts of empowerment, confidence, and trust that come with it and happily decorate a tree to put them under, year after year after year.