When I was little, my parents had to force me to shower. I assure you I wasn’t the “smelly kid.” It’s a well-known fact that each 1st grade can designate only one “smelly kid,” and our’s was Earth. No kidding, his name was Earth. He had a musty, almost almond scent. I showered, but always after some serious pushback.
I have vivid memories of standing before the hallway that led to the bathroom, clinging to the furthest reaches of the lamplight. I’d go no further. You see, I’d shower before bed, and our hallway was quite easily the darkest place in the known Universe. Einstein might’ve hypothesized it’s origins with complex mathematical equations. It was undoubtedly home to horrible creatures of pure evil, whose sole purpose was to tear me to shreds.
Cowering on this precipice of darkness, I’d cast a dejected gaze at my tyrannical father, my sullen eyes imploring him to reconsider this callous demand. The old man would expertly lower the top corner of his newspaper, and glance at me through his dollar store reading glasses. Sitting atop what can only be described as remnants of his prized La-Z-Boy recliner, he’d say with a dismissive nod, “go.” I’m sure he was wearing his comically weathered “moccasins” that served as slippers, hiking boots, landscaping clogs, and occasionally football cleats. He still has these poor clumps of leather.
I learned early on that dad was impervious to even my most skillful pleading. Like many households, our resident humanitarian was mom. Far more susceptible to reason, I was sure she’d pardon me from this unjust sentence. No such luck. Her standard reply was, “do you think I’d send you down there if there was something that’d hurt you?”
Something that’d hurt me? Some… thing? This statement succeeded only in conjuring images of things that could hurt me. My thoughts ran wild. Ghoulish monsters sprang forth from my imagination that would’ve given Wes Craven the willies.
Resistance was futile. Without fail, I’d end up darting to the far end of the hallway at reckless speed to flip the only working light switch. I had every step memorized. Precious milliseconds meant the difference between life and death. Everyone knows monsters can only attack in complete darkness.
It took years, but eventually I’d brave the dark hallway without prodding. I’d simply remind myself that if these terrible creatures existed, wouldn’t I have found some bit of evidence by now? A tuft of coarse, brownish fur? A slimy scale? A claw mark along the floral print wallpaper? Over time, it became clear to me that these creatures didn’t exist, or were more likely too afraid of my burgeoning karate skills to mount an attack. I was sure to leave my newly awarded orange belt in strategically conspicuous places.
When it comes to fear of the unknown, it doesn’t matter how logical or comforting we are with kids. They need to experience life, and see for themselves that there is no monster down the hallway. Confidence is earned and learned, through trial and error.
Of course some kids are born with more tools to navigate the unknown. But I am here to tell you that no matter how shy, or insecure, or passive a child may seem, they are absolutely capable of becoming incredibly confident. Some of the toughest little ones in my Kids’ Jiu Jitsu Program were not-so-long-ago latched onto mom’s leg, refusing to step foot on the mat. Through courage and experience, a magical tipping point is reached where apprehension gives way to excitement, and in turn opens the door to exponential growth.
Confidence comes from experience. It happens the moment after the deed is done, when we realize hey, I’m still here. And that wasn’t so bad.