Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fear of Flying (no, not THAT one)

I'm on a plane to California.

[And the fact that I can sit on an airplane and type something and hit a button and suddenly all the wired-world can read it is something too amazing to contemplate - but that's a topic for another post.]

Sitting in the airport waiting to board, I realized that although I'm looking forward to this trip, I wasn't really looking forward to the plane ride. And that realization surprised me, because for years I travelled as often as I could. I loved the anticipation, the take-off, the opportunity (when weather and flight plans permitted) to look out the window and identify landmarks (including once, on a trip back from Richmond, my parents' street and rooftop!).

But today I was a little unsettled, as I have been every time I've boarded a plane for the last ten or more years.

I know part of my discomfort comes from 24/7 coverage (on tv and/or online) of airplane disasters. And part comes with the territory of being a parent ("what will happen to the children if..."). But I also wonder if part of this fear just comes naturally with age.

When I was younger my brother and I often went skiing with our dad. I clearly remember my brother racing down a black diamond trail without me - although we were skiing at about the same level at that point in time (not quite ready for an expert trail, I might add). And I remember thinking that it was because he was too young to know to be scared. (If memory serves...and it might not...he was no more than 7 years old at the time.)

As a child, I believe I thought growing up would mean being less afraid.  And I suppose in some ways I am less afraid of some things.  I still occasionally get butterflies in my stomach before making a presentation, for example, but I am able to draw on years of experience, take a deep breath, and settle those butterflies by remembering that the worst that will happen is I’ll make a fool of myself – and I’m too old to care about that anymore!  And growing older and becoming a parent cured me of my fear of spiders (well…maybe not cured…but at least made me pretend I wasn’t scared so I wouldn’t pass along that fear to my kids).  And I’m less afraid to try new things – at least as long as those things don’t involve my fear of heights!  (I will NEVER go bungee jumping.)

But I’m definitely more afraid of things like falling down (it HURTS to fall down at my age!), getting sick (who’s going to handle the kids’ schedules?), and, of course, flying, which is not so much a fear as jitters (read: a panic) about what would happen to the kids if something happened to me, which is all about parenting, which really is very scary…

If you’re still reading, you must be wondering what this has to do with skateboarding since, after all, this is supposed to be a skateboarding blog or, at least, a blog about being the parent of a skateboarder.  And that’s exactly where I circle back to being afraid.

I wonder if skateboarding becomes more difficult with age – not just because some skills are more easily learned by the young – but because of fear.

When he started at age 5 or so, Sk8terdude had no fear.  In fact, as a parent it was a little worrisome to watch him try bigger and bigger ramps and skate faster and faster without seeming to have a care in the world.  But he’s older now, and a little wiser about things like gravity, and it’s a lot further to the ground than it was when he was younger.

When does this start to become part of the equation for skaters or for athletes in other extreme sports?  For example, if you don’t try the megaramp before you reach a certain age, are you destined to avoid it your entire life?

Is there a point at which skateboarders stop trying to learn new tricks and just celebrate a successful session (i.e. one without injury)?  Is this the ultimate obstacle - the one that skaters need to conquer in order to be great?  Is it that they don’t ever feel the fear, or that they learn to ignore it?  As a parent, how do I teach my child not to let the fear keep him from pursuing his dreams?
I watch Sk8terdude launch himself off the ramp and up into the air over and over and over again and I can’t help but wonder whether there will come a day when he’s afraid to let himself fly.