When she was about two years old, E had a very bad bout of croup. It was so bad that we weren’t asked to wait or to register—they took us straight from triage into the “real emergency” section of the unit. She’d had a dose of oral steroids, but it wasn’t enough; they put her on inhaled epinephrine. I had to hold the mask over her face for ten minutes (it felt much, much longer.)
She hated the mask. She squirmed and pushed it away, screaming, “NO! EEMA!!!! NO! I DON’T WANT TO! EEMA, STOP! PLEASE STOP!”
Fighting her tiny fists and holding the mask to her face as she screamed and begged me to stop was harrowing. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t respecting her “no.” She looked at me as if I had betrayed her rather than possibly saved her life. If I never again had to force her to do something against her will, it would be too soon.
“No! I don’t WANT TO! NO!!! I’M NOT GOING!!!” E screamed through her tears, her gloved hands clutching at the thick steel cables while two guides and I tried to pry her hands open.
Everyone else had already left the platform and ziplined across the 60-foot distance to the next tree. It was just me, E, and two guides; we were losing patience and E wasn’t calming down. I was faced with a dilemma: violate E’s sense of bodily autonomy and essentially push her off the platform (attached to an adult, of course,) or respect her wishes, help her climb back down the tower, and miss the whole zipline tour.
I was not willing to miss the tour. So after five minutes of her screaming and me trying to reason with E, I nodded to the guide who picked her up and took her across the zipline in his arms (and in her harness, of course.) When I got to the other side E was still screaming and we had a repeat performance of the struggle. Of course, now it would be difficult to turn back. This time I held E in my arms and a guide zipped across with both of us, E screaming the whole way.
The third zipline started the same way, but as we emerged from between some trees, the rainforest canopy was spread out before us; the air was misty. “Look, E! Look! We’re flying in a cloud!”
She stopped screaming and looked.
At the fourth platform, right before we stepped off, I said to E, “Know what song this reminds me of?” I sang to her as we zipped along:
“I was ten years old and bulletproof
There wasn’t nothin’ on earth I couldn’t do
Me and my buddies on a big rock ledge
Every knee knockin’, lookin’ over the edge
They dared me to jump to the creek below
The last word they heard was—
“GERONIMO!!!!!” E and I yelled in unison as we flew toward the fifth platform.
There was no more screaming after that. Instead, E and I sang every verse of “Crazy Enough” by Bobby Wills.
By the fifteenth zip line, E was already talking about “next time we go ziplining.”
We all encouraged E, saying over and over again how proud we were of her facing her fears and ziplining anyway. Of course, the truth is that she didn’t choose to face her fears—we made that choice for her when we forced her to endure the zipline, like it or not. But sometimes life’s like that, isn’t it? Sometimes we can’t take the first steps ourselves: we have to close our eyes and ask others to push us.
Towards the end of the course was an optional “Tarzan swing.” With your harness clipped into two bungee ropes, you jump off a platform thirty feet in the air and swing back and forth like a human pendulum. K and R were very eager to do it. I wasn’t keen on it, but I decided to show E that sometimes grownups are scared to do things, too, and that fear can be overcome for a few short seconds.
R went first and loved it. K went second and was thrilled. R came up and went again. Then N came up and said he wanted to try it. The guide got him all hooked up, but when the gate was opened and it was time to jump, N backed out. I tried to strike a deal: if he didn’t chicken out, I wouldn’t either. Alas, no deal.
And so it was my turn. I got harnessed up and clipped in; the gate was opened. I clutched the rope, looked down, and said, “Holy shit. No. No way.” Mr. December and all the kids were at the bottom, cheering me on. The guide reminded me that I wanted to do this for E, and also to keep my promise not to back out. I had to do it. I looked at the guard and told him to give me a push.
He pushed. I fell. “AAAAAAAGHHHHHH! I’M GOING TO DIE! MAKE IT STOP!” I screamed for the first two full swings, at which point I’d slowed down enough to not feel like I was freefalling. The swinging itself wasn’t too scary, and I tried to enjoy myself, but I was very glad to be on the ground again. E found the whole thing highly entertaining; so did everyone else.
Afterward, at lunch, E talked about how she wanted to zipline again.
“E, can you forgive me for forcing you to do the first three ziplines?” I asked. “You ended up loving it, after all.”
“I did love it, but I don’t forgive you,” she said calmly.
“Fair enough,” I said, “I’ll ask you again next Yom Kippur.”