Before we boarded the plan for Panama, we visited a travel doctor. He proceeded to tell us every way we could die on the trip: malaria, dengue, bugs on the beach, dysentery, car wrecks, germs, snakes, dog bites, you name it.
Kai walked out of the meeting terrified. I tried to explain it is the doctor’s job to warn us of possible problems, that he needed to prepare us, educate us.
Kai started having nightmares about bugs eating him in the tropics, losing us in the city, boarding different planes than us.
I tried to explain, without over explaining, that we live in a fearful society, that millions of people live in Panama, that sometimes doing the thing that scares you most turns out to be the best experiences of your life. Since the very first day, we’ve all had to face our fears. Kai of bugs; Eddie of losing control; Nikko of not having enough sweets; me of not being able to protect my children.
Most importantly is the lesson of how to hold on without gripping. Kai’s legs are covered with bites. He’s allowed the reality that to hang with monkeys or kayak the jungle, he’ll have to accept mosquitoes into his life. Acceptance for me is often more challenging. The question is how tightly to hold on and protect the boys.
When on our Panama Canal jungle cruise, we docked on a houseboat where a group of teens invited Kai to jump about 10 feet into the murky lake. Supposedly no crocs could access the lake.
I held my breath, squeezed little Nikko’s hand to stop him, a nascent swimmer, from following his big brother into the water. Then I encouraged Kai to dive into his fears and doing something that scared, and ultimately inspired him.
Later that week, in the waves of Santa Catalina, Nikko needed to prove he was ready to body surf the small waves back to the sand. Terrified, I had to let go, take a step back and just swim with them until sunset.
The next day on a snorkel trip, our guide motioned that he found a group of white tipped reef sharks on the reef. Kai begged to re-enter the water, and letting him push me onwards, we held hands and together dove into the sea to swim with sharks. Facing our fears has never been so much fun.