To say my oldest son is adventurous would be an understatement. We joke that he is going to grow up to be a stunt man. The kid is afraid of nothing. By four years old he has done some crazy stuff for his age. From swimming with sting rays in the open ocean to boogie boarding and Zip lining. He loves rock wall climbing and roller coasters. There is nothing he won’t do.
More than anything else, however, he loves to climb. When all the other moms are looking low to child proof door knobs, outlets, and kitchen cabnets, I was looking up. I became the master of climb prevention and could give a seminar on all the ways a child can use everyday household items to reach the ceiling.
One day while at the park, yelling at him to get out of a tree, it finally hit me why he is so fearless when he climbs. “Down. Now”, I said sternly, “this is not safe and you are going to get hurt.” My little boy stopped his assent and sat down on a branch. He looked at me and said in a clear tone that sounded just like his dad, “but I hurt anyway. So why can’t I have fun?” My heart broke at this. I pulled him out of the tree and hugged him. I explained to him that there are different kinds of hurt. Not all of them go away. Some can last a long time or be permanent. Falling out of a tree could cause an ouchie we can’t make better. “Ok,” he accepted, “sorry.” I looked at his sweet little face, all dirty and disheveled. I couldn’t help but smile at him as I picked pine needles out of his hair. “‘Come’on”, I said, “let’s go play on the jungle gym. That will be a safe place for you to climb.” But, my suggestion did not satisfy him. “Boooooooring” he said in a sing song voice. “Sorry kiddo”, I said, “It’s the best I can do.”
It’s a funny thing, how good emerges from bad. If you stop and take the time look for it, silver linings can appear in the most unfortunate of circumstances. It took four years for me to see the silver lining of dystonia. But it is there. It’s not a dull and tarnished silver either, but rather, it is bright and shiny and hard to miss. In fact, it is so wonderful that I never knew it was even related to dystonia, until my four year old pointed it out.
You see, to call him fearless is inaccurate. Rather I should say, fear is not a deterrent. As we all know, fear can be paralyzing. Even as an adult. It can stop us from making good decisions, or tying new things. Dystonia has given him so much to fear at such a young age that he has been forced to learn how to overcome it.
In retrospect, he began so many things with fear, many of which we take for granted. I remember as a little one year old he was even afraid to eat. Food caused pain. His solution was not to eat. When his feet hurt, he was afraid to walk. When he couldn’t hold a pencil, he was afraid to go to school. So many little things to be afraid of. But, he had no choice, he had to eat, and learn to walk, and go to school. However, he has learned to quickly conquer that fear to do the task at hand. He does not quit because he gets scared. As a sheer matter of survival, he had to learn to overcome his fears.
That is dystonia’s gift. I love his “what’s the worst that can happen”attitude that makes him bold and adventurous. I think for him, he already knows the worst that can happen. He knows what its like to fall down, to be hurt, to be singled out. He has faced all these issues head on, day after day, his whole life. For him failure is an invitation to be creative and find a new way. He’s an outside the box thinker. He has to be. While others fear the unknown, he is busy enjoying it. He chooses to be happy and experience all life has to offer regardless of what challenge is in front of him. This is a life skill that even most adults have not mastered. It’s a really hard thing to do, but my little four year old does it with grace and humour. And, as much as I hate it, I have dystonia to thank for it.