A few weeks ago, the kids and I went to see Carlos, our “bonus son” who is now all kinds of launched and living in Roanoke. He was clearly excited to be showing us around his new town and to tell us all about what he’s been up to. I’m so proud of how he is handling his transition into adulthood. He’s making some good choices about his life, figuring out what he will prioritize and what he won’t, looking ahead with clear eyes. We are so lucky to have him in our lives!
One thing he wanted to check out was the high ropes course at Explore Park in Roanoke. I said we could go take a look at it anyway. Petra, upon seeing it, was thrilled at the idea that she might get to go up into the canopy. Silas looked like he might throw up just looking at it. I suggested that Petra and Carlos could do the ropes course, and Silas and I could go explore other bits of the park. Carlos didn’t have the right kind of shoes (you have to have your toes covered), so he went to the nearest dollar store to find some sneakers.
While he was gone, the kids and I walked down the course, looking at the different obstacles and watching people slide down the zip lines. One of the facilitators offered to show us how the equipment worked. Unlike other systems I’ve seen, where you have to transfer carabiners, on this one, you have a c-shaped hook attached to your harness, which you slide onto a cable at one end and slide off at the other; the opening is not big enough to come off the cable. It’s very simple, and very safe.
After much contemplation, Silas said he might be willing to try it. We asked the people at the register whether we could get a refund if he went up to the first obstacle and then freaked out. They said, “Normally, we don’t do refunds, but sure, if he just gets up there and decides he can’t do it.”
Through all of this, Petra was being extremely encouraging. She kept saying, “I know you can do this. You’re braver than you think. It’s not that high! It will be fun.”
Silas finally said, “You’re being nicer than you’ve been in your whole life.”
Petra said, “I’m trying to make myself brave by making you brave.”
Silas finally decided that he was going to take the plunge, so we paid our money (super reasonable, and would have been less expensive if we’d bought tickets online beforehand), got our gear, and went to the course. The facilitators were extremely kind and reassuring. They first put us through a training course a few feet off the ground so that we could get comfortable with how the equipment worked. Then they said, “Okay, have fun, and if you get stuck, just shout ‘Blue Shirt!’ and one of us will come help you out.”
Petra and Carlos paired up on the second-easiest course, and Silas and I took the easiest one. For the first half of the course, he was doing fine—and then, on one platform where he needed to do a short zipline, he just froze. We were 20 feet up, on a little platform, and he could not make himself step off the platform. There were people behind us, and because of the design of the system, they couldn’t get past us. I kept trying to talk him through it, but he was just unable to make himself do it. He kept saying, “What if I fall?” and I said, “You won’t fall. It’s literally impossible.”
At that moment, I heard Carlos shouting Petra’s name. I looked up, and literally 150 feet above the forest floor, Petra was stuck in the middle of a zip line. She told me later that she hadn’t launched out with enough force. “Be a sloth, Petra!” Carlos shouted. She needed to use her hands to pull herself, sloth-style, through the last 20′ of the zip line, but she is so short that she couldn’t reach the cable above her head very well. So I’m staring at my one kid way up in the air, and trying to talk my other kid through a panic attack, and trying not to freak out myself. Petra, after a tense few minutes, managed to get herself to the platform.
After about 15 minutes, Silas agreed to holler for a “blue shirt,” and a young woman came. She took some time to talk him into going across the zip line tandem with her.
One thing I can’t get over was how positive this whole thing was. I very strongly believe that one key skill of leadership is the ability to create a healthy, supportive culture. I can’t put my finger on exactly how, but the facilitators at this ropes course did that—not just for the employees, but for the participants as well. The people behind us were as stuck as we were, but nobody was rude about it. They asked Silas’ name so that they could shout encouragement. The women right behind us said, “It’s scary for us, too! You take your time, it’s okay.”
When we got to the end of the course we were on, Silas said that he’d like to try this again some time, maybe next year. He could have been utterly traumatized, but because everyone was so positive, his challenges felt like, “I can’t do this yet,” not “I can never do this.”
I can’t say enough positive things about the people at Explore Park, and I am so proud of all my kids for how they tackled this challenge and learned from it.
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