Posted on October 23, 2014
The sky was displaying a threat of torrential showers, but the children weren’t shy about showing excitement as we pulled up to our destination. Their tiny faces pressed against the windows was indication of how quickly we needed to herd them off the school bus. The bus, which was at first the holy transport to the Promised Land, now stood as a barrier. One-by-one we ushered the children towards the pearly white gates of Cameron Run Water Park. In Moses-like fashion, I said a meditative prayer requesting that God would—if just for a short time—hold back the rain.
Thought it was my first time to Cameron Run, Aalia my mentee, had been many times before with Horton’s Kids. Aalia’s six-year-old approach to life is dichotomous and not unlike many adults’. She is both circumspect and gritty, balancing the two attributes with pensive complexity. In many ways this has been a struggle for her. Being shy kept Aalia from experiencing things she truly wanted to do, like trying the blue water slide that had three more loops than the yellow one she conquered the year before. But her perseverance kept Aalia coming back to Cameron Run year-after-year. Aalia’s frustration with the ungraceful dance between reservation and fortitude led us to a stare off with the wave pool.
In previous visits to the water park Aalia was too young to enter the pool. Her childish frame would not have withstood the impact of waves crashing against the inner tubes; so she played spectator while others wrestled with the seemingly treacherous waters. Not this time, though. There was something about the way Aalia grabbed my hand while we faced the pool. It was as if she—even in her youthfulness—knew remaining stasis in reluctance would mean forsaking bravery.
I looked down at Aalia finally acknowledging what had always been unmentionable to her. “Do you want to go in?” I asked. She didn’t respond, but moved towards the water indicating she was ready. I squeezed her hand tightly as assurance she was safe with me. Approaching the shallowest parts of the pool, I grabbed an inner tube. “Why we need that?” Aalia inquired. “The tube will keep you above water. You have to sit in it.” Panic was in her eyes while she climbed into the flotation device. For as much as she was scared I knew she would be fine. I would have risked life, limb, and my freshly coiffed pixie cut to keep Aalia from harm. But, she couldn’t find confidence in the unknown. Aalia had no certainty of my ability to keep her from drowning. Trust would only come from going through the waves together.
We sat in the middle of the wave pool amongst a fleet of eager teenagers and young adults beckoning the water forth.
“Just look at me,” I coached her.
“Keep your eyes on me. Don’t anticipate the waves. I will worry about that. Your job is to enjoy the ride.”
The sound of the pool’s bell triggered the first roll of waves. They were mild and bearable bumps even for a novice like Aalia. She sat quietly with a curious expression on her face that read, “Is this it?” Before long the waves intensified and rolled in more frequently. The inner tube tussled up and down in the water—then back and forth. As the waves grew stronger so did my grip. My hands pierced from Aalia’s nails.
“I wanna go back.” She cried. I waited before responding. “Ms. Shakirah, I wanna go back! Can we go back?” She asked. I remained quiet, letting her worry grow to anger. Her small body twisted to the right, then the left. The inner tube spun not just from the waves, but also Aalia’s attempt to escape. Water engulfed her and she was back in a seated position, staring at me with exasperation. Then, I broke the silence: Aalia, you are doing so well. Look at how high the waves are yet you are still in the water. I’m proud of you. With that I stepped out of Aalia’s line of view—the highest of the waves heading towards us. She did not flinch at their sight. Instead she looked on with wonder.
You not going anywhere?
Is it going to get scarier?
But – you won’t let me fall in?
No, I won’t. I’ll be right here.
We remained in the water, talking and sometimes laughing, while the waves continued. I suffered the worst of their blow. What reached Aalia was permissible for increasing her endurance. Endure she did. As rites of passage, Aalia unknowingly stepped away from reticence and a new level of trust emerged. I was no longer just Ms. Shakirah who showed up to tutoring once a week. Now, I was Aalia’s inner tuber navigating, wave pool conquering partner. And she was no longer just Aalia. She was brave.
The worst of her fears—as much as a child can express fear towards something—was met with grit. Even if hesitation preceded her, Aalia had reconciled the tension between wanting more and what it actually takes to make those things happen. At six-years-old she was no longer a spectator. Aalia was fully engaged in what used to be a passive, rhythm-less dance. Perhaps in this way Aalia learned that waves are not a singular act. Perhaps she found waves to be the very things necessary to develop complete fortitude and trust.
For a second time the pool’s bell sounded, silencing the waves. I led Aalia back towards the deck while reminding her of the great job she did. As we touched dry surface, she leapt to her feet; aware of her victory, she danced. Just then the sky pulled back its covers. Once more Aalia moved towards the wave pool and I stood in the distance watching her. She looked back at me with a triumphant smile.
Can we do it again? She asked.
Of course we can.