By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I got a lesson in bravery today from a 5-year-old. Our preschooler, Kate, knew she’d need kindergarten immunizations before she could move into the elementary school big leagues this fall. Her preschool teachers have been talking about it for months now, encouraging everyone in the class to submit to kindergarten shots and earn a special toy reward from the “shot box”.
The kids who run the kindergarten shot gauntlet also get their names on a poster which proudly displays their achievement. If ever there was a good use of peer pressure, this is it.
After Kate’s best friend got her name on the kindergarten shot poster, she was in a big hurry to get hers up there, too. I, however, wasn’t in a hurry because I’ve been through kindergarten shots with her two older brothers and remember all too clearly the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But the shots were inevitable so I took advantage of Kate’s sense of urgency. Today was the big day.
“You know what’s going to happen after you get your kindergarten shots?” I asked as we climbed into the minivan. “We’re going to go get the biggest ice cream treat you ever saw in your whole life!”
“The biggest?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Yep, as big as you want,” I confirmed.
This seemed to help, but I could tell she was scared. I distracted her by chatting about ice cream flavors on the way to the clinic, and then we played a game of “I Spy” while we waited for the nurse to come in with the dreaded tray of syringes.
When the moment arrived, I took each of Kate’s small hands in mine and told her to squeeze extra hard. I felt her body tense as the first needle went into her upper thigh. Her face flinched harder at the second injection. But the third and last one – that was the biggie. Her face grimaced with the pain, and two tears ran down her cheek.
But then it was over. After applying three Bugs Bunny Band-Aids, the nurse released her and Kate buried her face in my shoulder as I scooped her up and hugged her tight, telling her over and over how well she had done – how brave she had been. After a few minutes, the relief washed over her and we joyfully walked out of there headed toward the biggest chocolate milkshake of her young life.
The kindergarten shots reminded me of something that’s easy to forget when I’m nervous about something and feel small and alone. Fear is the thing we all have in common. Just like that classroom full of 5-year-olds, we’re all facing something scary.
We may not be staring down the same monster, but we’re all in a stand-off with fear – a job, a scary diagnosis, a loss, a hard conversation, embarrassment, possible failure, what might happen, what might not happen.
I recently heard someone say that sometimes we have to “do things scared”. And it struck me as one of the truest things ever said. Kate didn’t wait for the fear of shots to pass. She didn’t wait for self-confidence to wash over her. She walked into the clinic anyway, squeezed my hands, shed a few tears, and came out the other side. She “did it scared”, which makes it all the more impressive that she did it at all.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” And she was right. But I would add to that bit of wisdom with this: “Do things scared, and then go have ice cream.”