“Get out of the car now,” I said. “Or I’m going in there.”
My son Cade, 14, was slumped against the car door with a look of panic on his face. He was a high school freshman at the time and he had signed up for wrestling. But when I pulled up in front of the school for the first day of practice, he was suddenly paralyzed by anxiety. He’d never wrestled before. And, to be truthful, I would have been scared, too. But he wasn’t budging.
“Okay”, I said. “I’ll go tell the coach that you changed your mind.”
Holding my breath, I stepped out of the car and started a slow walk to the gym, hoping I would hear his door open behind me. I was one step away when I heard him call out: “Wait!” Cade walked past me and into the gym without saying a word. I exhaled, offered a silent thanks, then sat in the parking lot for a few minutes to calm myself.
When Cade came home that afternoon, he said practice was good. He went back the next day, and the next. He wrestled all four years of high school. Every practice and every match was difficult, but none as difficult as the decision to walk into the gym that first day. In the beginning, Cade got crushed by more seasoned wrestlers. But he learned new skills and eventually became a strong competitor.
Tonight, Cade and many other seniors across the country will receive their high school diplomas. We, their parents, will pause to reflect on and celebrate their achievements. When Cade crosses the stage to get his diploma, I’ll be thinking about his first day of practice. He got out of the car. He stepped into the ring. He accomplished a lot.
In a few months, there will be moments of anxiety when the car pulls up in front of his college dorm. I’m sure that decision four years ago will buoy his confidence. None of us – not even him – knows where his journey will take him. But he’s already learned a vital lesson: he has the courage to open the door.
Congratulations, Cade and the Class of 2018.