Brave, Finally


I am at the big kid playground with my younger son. There is a twisting slide as tall as our house and monkey bars that curve like a giant wave. An eight-foot tall spider web of tubing towers over us. In a few minutes the school bell will ring and we will collect my oldest child. In the meantime, the temptation of this amusement park is simply too much for my four-year-old.

He sprints towards the web of tubing and immediately becomes frustrated when his legs can’t stretch wide enough to ascend to the next row. The monkey bars are miles above his outstretched chubby hands. He can’t even jump high enough to get into the swing. Yet he manages to plow across a dancing bridge and down a few of the more modest slides. I’m giving him the illusion of freedom, but my eyes furiously track him, picking out his sandy-haired head every few seconds.

I lose him for a moment, and then spot a red hoodie on top of a wooden platform that reaches my chin. He crouches down and dramatically flings his arms behind him. I spring forward, immediately sensing what he is about to attempt. I stretch my arms in front of me, shouting:

“Kellan! Jump to my arms! That’s too high for you! Look, I’m right here. Let me lift you down to the ground and you can keep playing. Why don’t you try the bridge again?”

My son stands straight up, fixes his bright blue eyes on me and declares with a conviction that far outsizes his body:


I freeze at his words, mouth agape at the tiny human challenging me so boldly. After staring at each other for a full ten seconds, I step aside.

“Ok, Kel. I’ll let you be brave.”

He bends down once more, plops onto his bum and scootches off the platform, landing with a satisfying thud. I exhale with relief as he trips away.

I let him be brave. One of the biggest struggles of my life has been giving myself the same permission I gave him.

I have always wanted to be a more courageous person. Likely, my four-year-old self hankered after it as much as my son does now. But time messes with that childish confidence and abandon. Failure, fear, insecurity—they shoved their way in early, took up residence and I never kicked them out. I foolishly believed I would become brave over time, without putting in any effort. With each passing birthday, I thought this would be the year my insecurities would magically vanish. But as yet another candle was added to the cake, I became horrifying aware that I wasn’t automatically being upgraded to a more wizened, self-actualized version of myself. I was the same scared woman at 35 that I was at 29, that I was at nineteen.

I wasn’t changing. I was stuck.

This past year, I became so terrified about staying terrified that it forced me to take action. It wasn’t a resolution. It was an act of desperation. And so I did some things. I stepped away from a commitment that was no longer right for me. It was one of the most painful and relieving things I’ve ever done. For the first time ever, I went on a lengthy trip alone. There were high and lows, but I learned so much. I stole away for two nights with three of my best friends for no reason at all, and it was one of the most precious experiences I’ve ever had. I invested in myself and in my work as a writer. I learned how to do pull-ups. I went back to work part time, gifting my boys and husband with a mother and wife who is far and away happier and more present when she’s home.

I was petrified to do all of these things. I felt distraught over stepping away from a role I had held for years, anxious to travel alone, selfish for taking a weekend away, shame for investing in myself (is my writing enough?) weak over my lack of strength and guilty I wasn’t happy being home full-time.

Every single thing required me to get out of the way of the gutsy four-year-old within and let her be brave.

My social media feed is currently filled with a slew of well-intentioned posts about flat abs and 21-day cleanses and bullet journaling and goal-setting workshops and all the ways I can become a better me in 2019. But if this last year has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to strive to be a better me. I’m already old enough, good enough, strong enough. I just never realized it until I started jumping off the darn platform once in awhile.

So, my somewhat unconventional plan this year is to keep stepping aside. Let my inner four-year-old jump a few more times.

She wants to be brave.

And after 30-odd years, I’m finally letting her.