The hardest parenting lesson

We made it! We finally made it!

A national truck driver’s strike that blocked roads throughout Costa Rica waylaid us from reaching our destination for a few hours.

But it didn’t dim our excitement once we checked into our little beach bungalow, our home for the next month. We were smack dab in the middle of the rainforest, in Playa Chiquita, just a few miles south of the Carribbean town of Puerto Viejo.

The property owners informed us we’d have the use of two cruiser bikes, and we couldn’t wait to explore all the surrounding beaches.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore

Biking is one of the main modes of transportation for tourists and locals in Puerto Viejo and its surrounding areas.

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But biking in Costa Rica, we soon found out, is much different than in the U.S.

First of all, no bike lanes. We’d be sharing the two lane highway with motorcycles, buses, 18-wheelers and cars … and without the safety net of a paved shoulder. 

OK.

As for helmets? None, zip, nada.

Deep breaths.

And our bikes? No gear, rusty beach cruisers. 

Alrighty then.

Ahhh, freak out!

We couldn’t figure out how to adjust the seat of my 12-year-old daughter’s bike. It was a smidge too high, and, in dramatic pre-teen fashion, what ensued was a total meltdown.

“I can’t do this. I can’t touch the ground,” Sofia screamed as she wobbled uncertainly on the bike.

“You can, you’re fine,” I said. “You can do this.”

“No I can’t!” 

And then she crashed.

The result was a gash on her left ankle and a righteous attitude.

“See! I told you so,” she wailed. “You didn’t listen to me.”

My advice to her about self-fulfilling prophecies didn’t go over so well. We got her cleaned up and then the real freak out began. This time, mine.

Panic button

Prior to leaving for Costa Rica, my Google newsfeed had been serving up all kinds of terrible stories of travelers dying overseas, updating me daily on the tourists in the Dominican Republic who had mysteriously and suddenly died and people in the Southeastern U.S. who had contracted flesh-eating bacteria after swimming with open wounds.

A kid with an open wound in the rainforest with who-knows-what kind of microbes?! Those horrible images courtesy of Google had been seared into my brain.

Yeah, we would not be going to the beach for a bit. 

Over the next few days I obsessively checked Sofia’s wound, cleaned it out with filtered water, made her wear socks around the house and religiously applied antibiotic ointment and fresh bandaids.

Round 2

In lieu of the beach, we opted to ride into Puerto Viejo, about a three-mile ride. Easy peasy. 

Ryan, the owner of our place, kindly adjusted my daughter’s bike seat, and the next day we set off for our first adventure.

I let Sofia lead so she was in my direct line of sight. 

Check out the front row child seat.

Check out the front row child seat.

We rode as close to the edge of the road while traffic drove around us, sometimes with what seemed like only a few inches between us and them.

I was a nervous wreck, and Sofia was far from confident.

We made it to Puerto Viejo, but once in town, it was even worse with more cars, motorcycles and people to navigate around. I was barking out orders to her, and she was doing the best she could. We parked our bikes, grabbed lunch and did a little shopping.

We’re OK, we’re OK, we’re OK, I told myself.

That seemed to subside some of my anxiety … until we decided to head home. Midway, it started to drizzle. Which turned to flat-out rain. We got off our bikes and huddled under a bus shelter to wait it out a bit.

The rain slowed and we made it home. I was praying the whole time. Let us be OK, let us be OK, let us be OK. 

The C word

What has become glaringly apparent in the last year or so is just how much of a control freak I am. Guess who is not a fan of being told what, when and how to do things? Yes, an adolescent girl (and, I’m assuming, most everyone else on the planet).

Unfortunately for Sofia, as an only child with parents in two separate households, she got a double whammy of helicopter parenting. Throw her into an unfamiliar territory (read: Costa Rica) with a parent who is uncertain of her own abilities and surroundings, and you have a stew of anxiety, fear and doubt. This is the antithesis of how I wanted her to experience our big adventure. 

Risk vs reward

Appropriate beach cruiser footwear (lots of folks went barefoot!).

Appropriate beach cruiser footwear (lots of folks went barefoot!).

Audrey Rowland is an early childhood expert and runs a consulting company called Green Space (she’s also a client of mine). She strongly believes that children need to be able to take risks in order to learn boundaries on their own terms, without Mom and Dad’s interference.

The hardest part of this as a parent, she contends, is trusting your child. When kids are free to take risks, they actually are less likely to get hurt because they’ve been able to test the guardrails.

But, man oh man, is that hard to put into practice. When you’re being fed a steady diet of all the things that could go wrong thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it is really, really hard to ignore the noise and put your trust in your kid’s own abilities. 

You gotta have faith, faith, faith

Clearly I have some work to do in this area. I think one of the life lessons that kept showing up for me in Costa Rica is surrendering to the moment and to life. And realizing there is so much I don’t have control over: trucker union strikes, rain, a pothole in the runway, a flooded apartment, a computer that crashes, a tween daughter trying to assert herself.

In those moments when I can let go, I’ve felt complete freedom. It’s something I want more of and know it’s within reach, but something I have to put into practice throughout the day. Meditation helps; so does gratitude.

I am far from perfect, but I catch myself more frequently now when I start to go down a worrying path. I’ll take that as progress.

Ride, ride like the wind

Our time in Costa Rica allowed both of us to grow our confidence and relax more in the moment. 

Oh, there were a few more stumbles. We both took tumbles on our bikes. But we got up, brushed ourselves off and got right back on again.

By the end of our trip, Sofia had lost all her wobbles, and her tentativeness. My girl was confident, riding tall with her long hair blowing in the wind.

I knew she had arrived at a new place when she declared with calm assuredness: “Mommy, I’m going to lead. You’re too slow.”

“Yup,” I told myself, “she’s got this.” And, for the first time, I 100 percent believed it.