When my son started crawling we lived in a tri-level house with two sets of stairs. There were no easy ways to gate them, so we didn’t. Like most babies, he was magnetically drawn to the steps, his curiosity and drive to climb to the top was pretty unstoppable. We let him explore, taught him how to slide down on his tummy, and made sure we were always behind him in case he faltered.
We all start at the bottom, looking up at the challenges and achievements of each step. Some of us are unsure of the climb and lack the confidence to make it up the first stair. Our paths to accomplishments are filled with obstacles. A broken step, or a loose railing. Our journey isn’t easy and each success is hard-earned, one stair at a time.
Others take the stairs two at a time, never bothering to stop and think about what a fast track to the top might mean. They see the ultimate goal and their only focus is on reaching it, no matter what.
Then there are those that achieve the climb, not for themselves, but because they think they have to keep up with the one climbing the next staircase over. This kind of climb can be never-ending because there is always a bigger, better step to conquer.
I was an unsure climber. As a child I suffered crippling shyness that made talking to even a familiar person unbearable. I couldn’t go into stores alone, didn’t answer the phone, and talking in front of the class was a living nightmare. My shyness, plus a learning disability, and body image issues contributed to poor self-esteem and self-confidence. Any achievement seemed too steep, too high, too far away. I was stuck at the bottom and I was afraid.
But life would force me up the steps. Slowly, and not always willingly, I started conquering my fears. Eventually I could talk to people without feeling like throwing up, and now I meet with strangers and give presentations as part of my job. I still prefer email to a phone conversation, but I’m not terrified of the person on the other end. Up I go.
My inability to spell was a stair that tripped me up for years. Even though I could write and read, spelling never came to me. I feared spelling tests with the kind of fear that started in my toes, worked its way up to my chest, and made its home there. I don’t think I passed more than a handful. One time I was caught cheating off the kid next to me. The teacher asked me if I’d do it again, and I said yes, because cheating was better than not knowing how to put the letters into words. Anytime I had to hand-write an essay or notes, they were littered with misspelled words, some so misspelled they were unidentifiable. Even though I kept tripping, I didn’t fall. I have an English degree, work in publishing, and thanks to the magic of spell check, I can get the words in my head to look right on the page. Up, up, up.
My body was trapped on a step in middle-school. It had forgotten to finish two important jobs and while all my friends were getting boobs and butts, I was getting glasses and braces. Instead of a sports bra under my basketball uniform I wore a dance leotard so that it looked like one. I frequently changed in the bathroom stall so I didn’t have to do it in front of the other girls and see what they had that I didn’t. It took until sometime in my mid-twenties to realize there’s no point in yearning for the body I don’t have and started loving the one I do. One step higher.
The climb is easier than it used to be. I might still stumble over the steps when there’s a rocky time in my marriage, when I feel like I’m failing as a mom, or when the ascent doesn’t take me where I expected, but now I have the confidence from past achievements that push me forward to future ones.
My son is two and still obsessed with stairs. He navigates them fairly well on his own and would happily go up and down all day if he could. He’s just starting his climb but is achieving something new every day. A new word, a new skill, a new observation of the world around him. I watch him trying to figure out where a puzzle piece goes, see him get frustrated when he gets it wrong, but then he finds where it fits and shouts, “I did that!” I clap my hands and celebrate with him. I will always celebrate his achievements because I want him to be self-assured as he takes each step toward the top, and I will always be right there to catch him if he slips.
JOURNALIST: Michelle Windsor
PHOTO CREDIT: Erin Barajos