I took my four and a half year old for a “Mommy and Me” date at a local waterpark recently.  He earned the privilege after weeks of doing extra chores around the house. 

I have a love of water parks—floating on the lazy rivers, playing in the wave pools, sliding down the adrenaline-packed water slides, and eating the obligatory over-priced junk food.

I had, in my mind, dreams of him loving the whole experience as I do.  Thrilled to go down the children’s versions of the popular adult slides.  Running gleefully into the surf in the wave pool after scarfing down Dippin Dots and French fries.  I saw him standing excitedly while the big bucket of water filled, anxiously waiting for it to overflow and tip over.

The water park was full of excitement in the planning.   He eagerly told me he wanted to go down every slide.  He wanted to try every culinary delight.  He was brimming with delight as we dropped his younger sister off at her Godmother’s for the day.  He pointed at the adult slides high up over our heads as I parked and told me he wanted to go down ALL of them.

Then came the first attraction; a child-sized water slide.  He stopped partway in line, turned and clung to me.  I had to honor his fear, even as I was dismayed that he was afraid of what to me looked like a tame, fun slide.  Attraction after attraction was nixed because it was “too scary”.  I was surprised, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been.

What I hadn’t taken into account was my overly friendly but sometimes timid son, who watched carefully at the trampoline playground for ten minutes before cautiously stepping out on the trampoline holding my hands for a while before being ready to jump solo, then run and play with the other children. My son who wouldn’t try new foods anymore.  My son, who is cautious.

I had to check my expectations. I had to stop judging his fear.  I had to look at my beautiful, friendly boy and see that through his eyes that the slides were scary.  So we started at the wave pool, in the very shallow end.  And stayed there a while.  Then we went a bit deeper, with his forty-two pound body resting on my hip and his slender arms wrapped tightly around me.  Next, we made it to the Lazy River, and the kids’ play pool.  And, eventually he went down the slides off to the side of where a big bucket randomly filled and dumped water on everyone underneath it.  And, he declared he loved Dippin Dots after I ordered some for me.

At the end, he had a blast and talked about it for weeks.  And, I learned another lesson from my son.  I learned I need to love him for exactly who he is, and not who I build him to be in my mind.  Because he is wonderful exactly as he is.