I don't want to get too heavy on anyone looking for some quick, funny Ethan wisdom, but something happened today that I think is important to share because so many young people and parents read this page. Life is often more complicated and beautiful than 240 characters can convey. If you don't want heavy, don't read the rest.
I took Ryan and Ethan to the park today. There was some new playground equipment and they were eager to check it out: two very tall towers next to each other, connected by a walkway with a giant slide coming out of the top. You've got to climb to the very top to get to the slide.
You need some background before I continue: Ethan's older brother, Ryan, who is nine, is autistic and has always had trouble with playground equipment such as this. I'm not sure if it's a fear of heights or enclosed spaces or falling or all of the above, but he has often ended up stuck somewhere between half-way and the top and I have to climb up and help get him down. Nothing bad ever happened to him or anything like that…he was just born without that fearlessness most children have.
Ethan getting older, and being such a kind soul, has helped as he always tries to guide his big brother up or through whatever is causing the trouble. Just having his brother there makes Ryan feel better and he's been able to make a great deal of progress with Ethan by his side. And it's a good thing as I've gotten old and creaky it seems and can't make it through a McDonald's Play Place as well as I used to.
It's important to know that Ryan always TRIES, even when he's clearly scared to death. Most kids are like Ethan and can climb up and down anything without thinking twice about their own safety, but not many can do it when they are genuinely and sincerely afraid. Ryan takes a deep breath, sometimes when he is literally shaking, and always gives it a shot.
Back to the new towers in the park: They are TALL and the only way up is a spider-web of ropes that made even me nervous. Every five to ten minutes a child would start screaming or calling for their Mom or Dad and the parent would have to run over, climb up and pull down a very terrified boy or girl.
As he always does, though, Ryan gave it his best. Three times he got about halfway, with Ethan trying to guide him step-by-step, and all three times that fear hit him like a lightning bolt and he had to climb back down. Ethan had already climbed up and slid down about 10 times and Ryan hadn't made it once.
After the third time, Ryan came down and it was clear he was starting to cry. I grabbed him to give him a hug and he fell into me, crying, and said "Oh Daddy, I'm so gay."
The words just crushed me. I said "Ryan, what do you mean gay?" and he replied "You know…I'm afraid. I'm scared."
Although I didn't go into detail, I explained to him that gay doesn't mean "scared" or "afraid."
Clearly, another child had told him he was "gay" because he saw that Ryan was afraid of some playground equipment somewhere...and they had told him enough times that he remembered it. Ryan walked away towards some other playground equipment that wasn't so scary.
I sat down and tried to gather myself. After a few minutes I thought "screw that kid" and grabbed Ryan by the hand. "We're going up that tower," I told him.
And that's what we did. Just having me there, climbing close to him, kept the fear away enough for him to make it to the top. I didn't have to push him or lift him even once. I just had to be close. Ethan waited at the top for his brother to finally make it and they slid down together.
At the bottom of the slide, Ryan was overjoyed. "I did it!" he shouted over and over loudly enough that a lot of people looked over to see what the commotion was about. He came home and proudly told his mother that he had made it all the way to the top of new tower in the park.
The reason I thought to write this is that it's one of the most important lessons I've learned in my life and it applies to adults as well as children, in any number of situations: Sometimes the kid that seems like the most frightened child you have ever seen is actually the bravest child you have ever met.