I've never been one to hide my directional ineptness, but actually there’s more to the story. Whenever I have to navigate unfamiliar areas, intense fear grips me. Although I never go anywhere without my navigation system, a printed Google map, and directions from someone who knows where I am going, I may as well have nothing. My palms sweat as I grip the steering wheel, wondering how many wrong turns I will make and how late I will be.
But when I arrive safely – especially when there is minimal backtracking – I feel triumphant. Reaching a destination provides a small boost to my directionally fragile self-esteem.
Although this fear tempts me to forgo excursions to new places, like speaking engagements out of my ten-mile radius, I do it anyway. I say YES and remind myself that although I might get lost temporarily, I always find my way home.
My children are aware of my problem. They know to get very quiet at the first sign Mom is lost—usually when I start talking to the GPS. There’s a very good chance my children don’t know the gas station sells gasoline. I use it mainly for directional purposes.
Surprisingly, my kids still get in the car with me each day. When I type a new address into the GPS, the look of concern on their faces is brief. Usually one of them shrugs and reminds the other, “We can always stop at the gas station if we get lost.”
Well, the other night it happened—we got lost. But this time I had no navigation system, no map, and no written directions.
My children and I were on foot. We had just left their first concert in the downtown area of our city. We departed before the show ended, so the area around the amphitheater was unusually vacant. We carefully followed the meandering walkway exactly the way we entered—two lefts and a right, expecting to see the city street on which we parked.
I’ll admit, I was not surprised to find myself in unfamiliar territory. After backtracking to the amphitheater twice, praying we would see where we made the wrong turn, panic set in. My grip on the children’s hands grew tighter. My breathing got faster.
“Why do I always get lost?” I barked at no one in particular—perhaps throwing that big mystery out to my ever-failing sense of direction.
“You tried really hard to remember where parked,” my youngest child consoled.
Biting my lip and trying not to cry, I felt frustrated.
But mostly scared.
“Remember this,” an annoying little voice popped in my head at a very inappropriate time.
My nine-year-old daughter stopped mid-stride and with calm authority said, “Mama, just remember where you came from.”
She meant: remember the landmarks, but I took her words differently. And those words were actually what I needed to hear.
Remember each time you are lost, you eventually find your way. Just keep a level head. Push through your fear, and do what you need to do to get home.
I resorted to my foolproof navigation method: ask for help. But I wasn’t going to ask just anyone. I had my most precious possessions with me.
I spotted a parking garage with a male and female police officer on the other side of a glass partition. I let go of my daughter’s hand briefly to knock. The male officer came over and I managed to keep my voice from breaking. “I am disoriented. I cannot find the lot where my car is parked.” I described a few landmarks that I could recall. Then I told him how much the parking cost in the small lot where a man in an orange cap had been taking money.
A look of recognition came across the officer’s face. The $7 lot tipped him off. He told us we were not far. He rode his scooter slowly ahead and we followed with quick strides, the look of relief apparent on all our faces.
Within minutes, we were safely in the car. Doors were locked. We would be home shortly.
“Remember this,” said that little voice in my head. A few days later, I knew why.
It was my youngest daughter’s first swim meet in a natatorium. The multiple pools were vast and intimidating. The warm-up session included several teams, which meant a large number of swimmers in one lane.
Warm-ups had barely begun when I looked down from the bleachers to see my child had pulled herself out. She stood there shivering. As I worked my way down to her, I saw it: the familiar look of fear … of helplessness … of uncertainty.
“Mama, the pool is so big! The water is so deep! I couldn’t see where I was going,” she cried with desperation. Warm tears mixed with droplets of pool water as she whimpered, “I lost my breath, Mama.”
Oh yes, I had seen that look before—in the rearview mirror of my car every single time I’ve been lost.
I am ashamed to admit, but a few years ago, I would have had firm words for my child. Something like, “This is ridiculous. This pool is the same length and same depth as the one you swim in every day at the YMCA. Now pull yourself together. You don’t want to miss the warm up.”
But I am on a journey to grasp what really matters. Thank God, things are different now. Now there are more important things than winning. Now there are more important things than how a situation might appear to others. The days of plastering on a fake smile when there is discontent in my heart are over. And I want to offer my children the same opportunity to live in realness.
I got down on my child’s level, feeling water from the pool deck soak into my jeans. Looking straight into my child’s tearful eyes, I said, “I know what it’s like to be in unfamiliar place. It may look new and a little scary, but let me tell you, this pool the same length as the Y pool. And in a minute, you will get have your race, and there will be no one else in your lane.”
The fear that clouded her blue eyes began to ease.
“How long does it take you to get from one end of the pool to the other?” I asked.
“’Bout one minute,” she whispered.
It was close enough. “You can be brave for one minute, can’t you? That is sixty seconds. And when you do, you will feel so good about what you did. I bet when you reach the wall you’ll think, ‘That wasn’t so bad, in fact, it was fun.’ ”
My child let out a nervous giggle at the thought of actually doing it. After a moment’s hesitation she said, “Okay, Mama. I can be brave for one minute.”
Soon enough, it was time for her heat. I watched from the side as my child stepped up, dropping into the cold water for her start.
With strawberry-blonde curls peeking out beneath her swim cap, she pushed off the wall with vigor. She surfaced from her streamline with a smile. As her sturdy arms propelled her towards the other side, her joyful expression grew. I’m certain I could read her mind: “I am doing it! I am doing it!”
And when she reached the edge, I saw it: the look of triumph.
She climbed out of the water and met me with a long, wet hug. She let out a huge sigh of relief just like I do when I make it home after being lost.
“I will remember this,” I thought to myself … and now I offer this reminder to us all:
Whether she’s trying out for student council, walking into a new classroom, or going to the dentist for the first time …
Whether he’s sleeping without a night-light, riding a bike without training wheels, or nervously eyeing the neighbor’s dog …
Whether it’s the first job interview, standing up to a bully, or riding on an escalator …
It’s unfamiliar territory.
And a fear that may seem silly or insignificant to us, may seem quite real to them.
So try remembering where you came from … remember the times you were scared, uncertain, and worried. Your child’s fear is just as real.
And perhaps by remembering where you came from, you can offer a little compassion, encouragement, and a chance to overcome a challenge.
And in doing so, you may shed light on unfamiliar territory …
So those who are lost can reach the other side of fear,
And find their way home.
Think about what it feels like when you’re about to take a risk or step out of your comfort zone—like accepting a new job, starting a new relationship, facing a difficult parenting dilemma. New situations can be so overwhelming that we would rather just stay in familiar territory—but then we lose a chance to grow, flourish, and experience triumph.
There is great value in remembering how we feel in those moments of uncertainty and fear. By remembering, we can offer our children a chance to feel understood rather than condescended or ridiculed. What might look so easy to us is unfamiliar territory to them. Be a loving guide or a source of support as they navigate the unknown.
Please share your thoughtful comments and valuable insights; we can learn so much from each other, my friends of The Hands Free Revolution. Thank you for taking this journey with me.
This is wonderful.
Very well said
Carla Dillenburg says
Both you and your daughter did something very important. It is something we sometimes resist doing when we are trying to be brave about what scares us. That something is to ask for help. It’s very satisfying to have done it on your own, and sometimes we have no other choice, but at other times it can be part of the growth, and another small tie in what connects us to the other people in our world. For some of us, having others see that we need help is the very thing we fear, and one that can become destructive if we don’t overcome it.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Oh that is so good, Carla! I didn’t think about the fact that we both asked for help until you emphasized it. What a beautiful point that asking for help can actually empower us! I just love my readers’ insights. Thank you, friend.
Well said, Carla! Rachel, your readers are some of the best I’ve ever witnessed on the internet. I love this story and will “remember this” as well!
I’ve used exactly this in helping my little’s and my bigs through some rough times recently and it makes all the difference in the world! Remembering where I’ve come from has helped me in many relationships and situations. I think when we remember where we have been and what we have walked through and are honest about our own humanness we give our children and those around us a gift. Thank you for reminding me to keep on doing this!
lovely,lovely,lovely! 🙂 can’t say more but those!
Beccy Kirtland says
I love all your articles. They really touch my heart. Thank you for what you do. I know we are making a difference in the lives of our children and for generations to come. God bless you!
Kim Antieau says
Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for another nice read and a most excellent reminder. Most of all, thank you for writing and sharing. Your words inspire many.
Lisa H says
What a wonderful post! I am right there with you about getting lost; I have a terrible sense of direction and dread finding new places (but we usually manage to get there eventually). I totally understand the feeling of triumph when you get to where you are going. Thank you for the reminder of the lessons we can learn and share from these experiences.
Every time I read one of your posts….it just speaks volumes to me! I cannot thank you enough for your daily reminders of how to treat my child and what is really important in life! You are the main reason I check my Facebook everyday! Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with all of us:) You truly are an inspiration!
I look so forward to your posts each week in my in box…thank you for your journey and taking us along with you. I become more aware, more attentive and more understanding with each of your insights. With each post you are making the world a better place
I love this 🙂 often your writing reminds me of Buddhist ideas… I have been reading Pema Chodron’s ‘Start Where You Are’ where she talks about using the messy, uncomfortable situations in life – that we might deny or run away from – as a tool to finding our soft spot, a ‘shaky tenderness’. We can try to have compassion or more gentleness with what is difficult for ourselves and understand more the challenges of being human. On this level we can relate to others and have genuine compassion for them.
Your story is beautiful Rachel – thank you <3 Xx
Yes, Sascha! My son got his first demerit at school, and he was terrified. We had a long talk about learning from the situation, rather than reacting to it…and that the universe is teaching him…that it will continue to teach him until he learns. We shared stories of things that I struggle with, I hope he can learn the strength from situations that might appear weak (but are actually learning).
Lori Stoffers says
I couldn’t have read this at a more opportune time. My son (4) deals with anxiety/fear with new situations and situations involving doctors, dentists, or anyone touching him. I try to remind myself that his fear is just as real as any fear I have. I have to meet him where he is to help him cross the fear to the other side, instead of getting frustrated and hollering from where I’m at, asking him to do it himself. Thank you for your post. I, too, will remember!
Sarah Farnsworth says
thanks for every big and little inspiring word you share. it means more than you know.
This is an excellent post that left me in tears. I know your fear well, I live through it, and when I drive through my gates, I’m home. Really Home. And my kids are safe.
I have 8 year old challenging son who needs me to remember this. Thankyou for a beautiful blog.
Roberta Owens says
Bravo mother and daughters! Brings to mind FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and another from Bill Cosby, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”
Lauren Dack says
As usual, thank you for sharing this! I had to laugh as you explained your lack of directional abilities, because I am exactly the same way! I get so angry with myself…there are many times when I’ve wondered what is wrong with me. Thank you for the reminder that I will always find my way home, and to give myself a little more grace as I do.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you for sharing, Lauren. I am not glad to hear you suffer from the same problem — but I am glad to know that it’s not just me! In fact, I have gotten many messages from other “directionally challenged” people and it does feel good to be understood! Thanks for being a part of this community!
I am new to your blog and so glad to find my way to your writing. This post brought tears to my eyes. I love your reminder about seeing what is REAL for our children. To often, it is easier to decide for them what is real (opinions, feelings, everything!) instead listening to them and seeing the truth in their experience. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.
I too have a terrible sense of direction – it makes me anxious and unable to think as soon as I start to feel I’m lost. And if anyone is in the car with me, whew, I sometimes can’t even remember my name or where I live… all reason flies out the window. This post left me in tears – I will remember next time my 4 year old doesn’t want to play with others… we’re working on a lack of confidence with other kids right now and it’s tough to always remain calm and unworried about it. Next time I’ll remember my empty head when lost and reassure him that his reason will return. Thank you.
Lovely. Beautiful. Perfect. Thank you for always writing what I need to read.
ger dalton says
Very well said, thank you, very familiar and easy to relate to, thank you 🙂
I have that same fear of getting lost (I’m sure it is a control issue for me, fear of -gasp!- not being in control!!). And I had the same anxiety at my son’s first swim meet (he did not)…it is chaotic and scary, but a right of passage. To me, it shows we are ALL still growing, still learning…YEAH!
Thank you so much Rachel! I needed to hear this for my sweet little girls’ sake! I find myself snapping at her over little things. Just this Sunday, at church, in front of a bunch of other little children and some adults, she was asking the teacher a question, and I interupted her and told her to go sit down. She ran to her chair in tears. She’s 5. It broke my heart. I felt so bad that i had hurt her like that! I went over to her to explain why I had done it. I told her there is a time and place to ask the questions she was asking. Anyways, in my heart, I vowed to make an effort to NEVER do that again. I never want to hurt my baby. The teacher was fully capable of talking to her and I should have let things be. You are so wonderful Rachel. I love your words. I love the reminders you give. I am not such a great mom. I struggle with spending quality time with my sweet children because I am exhausted. But you are so right. They are the MOST important things in my life. I want them to feel loved by me no matter what, and I want them to feel like they could come talk to me if they needed! Keep writing Rachel. Don’t ever stop. You are such a blessing in my life. I love you for that.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Amber, thank you so much for sharing your difficult truths and letting me know that I am helping you. It means so much to me and inspires me to keep sharing my struggles and joys along this journey. It is so clear how much you love your daughter and want to do right by her. It also clear that you are trying … and you are showing up each day … don’t underestimate how significant those factors are. Thank you for sharing this journey with me, friend.
Lloyd Neale says
What a joy and pleasure to read your words and messages of hope. At the age of six, I was lost for over twenty four hours in the mountains of Idaho during a camping trip with family and friends. That experience, as you might imagine changed my life forever and offered me the greatest opportunity to help dispell the fears of so many children that came into my life during my 30 years of teaching. Thanks for being a blessing and ray of sunshine to everyone who has the opportunity to read words!
[…] On the other side of Fear – I have a highly sensitive child. Sometimes his fears of things are beyond my comprehension. I don’t always understand why he is scared of this, uncomfortable with that, etc, and there are times that I forget to acknowledge his feelings and I hate to admit I probably made him feel condescended at times. This post made me remember, I need to be that constant support he can count on, even at times of fear. […]