Remember when we were children and we thought we could do anything, especially if we saw it on television? I distinctly remember an episode when I was around eight or nine that perfectly illustrates this point. As part of my parents never-ending quest to make me a well-rounded individual (1), the had signed me up for piano lessons when I was five. Every couple of years, I'd outgrow my piano teacher (2) and they'd find me a new one. I had just started with a teacher who was, incidentally, a single parent herself. She lived on a horse farm and gave piano lessons to augment her income. Her daughter, Jenny, was slightly older than I; one day, she offered to take me riding after my lessons. Arrangements were made and off we went to the barn.
It should be noted that she put me on a rather young, lively horse that was, in all likelyhood, three times my size. However, one of my self-percieved greatest strengths - and self-ignored biggest weaknesses- was that I thought I knew everything and so had no fear of anything. There was nothing that I couldn't do or conquer.
I think this is fairly common in childhood, but I really don't know for sure. At any rate, as luck would have it, I had recently watched a Disney movie that I believe was called "Horsemasters." It was all about riding horses, jumping horses, being a Champion HorseMaster. So, when Jenny put me on the house and started to tell me how to ride in the Western-riding saddle I was using; I stopped her and proudly proclaimed that I knew everything I needed to know. In fact, I was sure I'd be champion at dressage; an English-riding term, and the only one I could remember. In fact, I could probably even train horses! I had, after all, watched the movie. Jenny, who was understandably irritated with my arrogance and ignorance, decided to teach me a lesson .. she smacked the butt of that horse HARD and it took off galloping with me clinging to it's hair (3) for dear life. I had no clue that it was quite possible that I could die. I can still clearly remember thinking though that if Mom found out, she'd probably never let me ride again and so it was a shame that I didn't even get to do a jump with the horse because I was sure that once I regained my composure, I'd be good at it. I also noted that, man, the movie didn't mention how much you get tossled/bounced around! My teeth were clanking together terribly.
I finally decided that the only way I was going to live through this unscathed was to show the horse that I was the boss here. So, I pulled hard on his hair. Nothing. I pilled again and the horse, who had just about enough of me, reared back and threw me off. Well, I say he threw me off ~ really, I think I kind of slid off to one side while holding his hair. When I let go, I hit the ground and rolled to the right a bit, fortunately out of his way. I am old enough now to realize how incredibly lucky I was to not have been seriously injured or even killed. At the time, though, it wasn't something I had any real understanding of. I just knew I was terribly embarrassed of my failure as a rider and needed to save face. So, when Jenny came running up with tears streaming down her face and asked if I was ok (4), I puffed up and announced with a proud voice how expertly I had avoided being crushed by those huge hooves and did she see that, because maybe she should take notes? I'm pretty sure that's about the time she hit me.
So, I get a few years under my belt and now I'm old enough to realize that I can't do everything, but still not wise enough to admit it. I remember being 15 and my church youth group was going on a rock-climbing trip. Let me just say, that even then when I was arguably in the best shape that I have ever been in, I was not made for rock-climbing. My center of gravity is all wrong (5), and at the time I couldn't even carry a gallon of milk with one arm without complaining that it really did hurt. While my physique may have been all wrong for rock climing and I knew it; those cute boys who were going were all right for me... really, how hard could it be? I could figure out how to do it enough to be cool... right?
Wrong. First of all, I had packed no gloves, which would prove to be my saving grace on this trip. I strapped on to the rope with the relay clip attached to the harness our leaders made us wear and positioned myself next to the really cute boy I was trying to get to know better. I grabbed my first rock and that would be when I realized that I should have not made fun of my partner for wearing "hobo gloves" - because then maybe she would have lent them to me! Those rocks were sharp and kind of hurt... but, I told myself, it would be ok. It's not that far to the top and I'd mostly be pushing myself up with my legs (6). Yeah, not so much... did you know rock-climbing takes what seems to me to be an enormous amount of upper-body strength? I managed to get three rocks up somehow before I couldn't find footing, could no longer hold myself up and my "center of gravity" got the best of me. Completely humiliated, I blamed it on how much the rocks hurt and announced that I couldn't possibly try it again wtihout the gloves. I'd just stick to rappelling. I really can't recall the events leading up to this, but my first foray into rappelling did not go much better. In fact, I ended up hanging upside-down by the rope with my hair caught in a tree-branch. I lived to tell the tale; even used it to get an "A" in our emotional story-telling exercise in drama class.
I became a single parent while my children were still fairly young. My eldest was barely in school and the youngest one wasn't yet. Besides an episode where Madeline, my eldest, cut her hair when she was three; I had been fairly lucky... my kiddos really hadn't done anything that dangerous or insane ~ yet. In fact, I had come to believe that perhaps the insane stunts in my childhood were limited to just me. Wow, was I in for a rude awakening.
(1) And find SOME activity that did not require the sewing of my pants pockets to keep me involved and not day-dreaming.. seriously, though, I never did understand why they thought I would find chasing a soccer ball back and forth fun... even at six, you could see that wasn't me. Bully for those of you who like it, but it just doesn't float my boat personally.
(2) or wear him/her out, but that's a different story
(3) not the reigns, which had dropped when he took off and I had completely forgotten about
(4) to this day, I'm still not sure if she was crying out of worry for my well-being or the safety of her own butt if I got hurt and our Moms found out that she started the whole escapade by slapping that horse's butt
(5) which is a nice way of saying I have a bubble-butt.
(6) Which in my mind, was perfect, since I could not even do ONE push-up