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.