Quick shallow breaths, struggling to keep my eyes glued on my son while maneuvering all kinds of hidey holes, mini-slides, and iron grate ladders in near darkness, picking our way through a sea of hundreds more giggling, squirming kids. Through the dim light, I could just barely keep up with him. Two terrible fears of mine were clogging my brain: One - getting stuck in a small dark place, where I wasn't completely convinced that help would even be able to hear me call out over all these munchkins and Two - losing my son in this twisted mess.
The Saint Louis City Museum gave this girl a run for her money. By the way, I would not categorize this tri-level jungle gym a "museum", but I guess there were a few historical corners of this place. If you're thinking about going you either need spider monkey ninja skills to be able to stay with your kid or absolute faith in God's ultimate protection of your family. Because when you let your child slip off into this Alice in Wonderland labrynth and see them pop out an entire story above you, it can be a bit unnerving.
Needless to say... I was scared. Scared for me and scared for Dakota.
But. Dakota was amazing. He was the perfect size for this place and though it was dark a lot of the time, he was having so much fun he didn't even notice. He was totally in his element. The best part was him leading me. Not just him picking the direction, but he was choosing the way with me in mind. Picking paths that were challenging, but doable. And more than once came a little voice over the crowd, "Come on Mom, you can do it," or, "This way Mom, this way will work". Sometimes he'd take my hand or scout ahead a little then come back to show me the best way.
After I finally hauled my cookies up through a hole in the floor under an elephant skill, I had to call it quits. I was emotionally exhausted (and physically!). Later, after I regained my adult composure, I scooped up Dakota, gave him the biggest bear hug, and whispered into his ear, "Thank-you for helping Mommy to be brave." A huge smile crossed his face and he simply nodded his head.
That day I was lead through my "what-if's" by my child. As adults, I think we tend to forget what kids can feel like when adults are pushing them out of their comfort zone. It can be downright scary, but by letting them know we're looking for the best way for them, being positive, and yes, maybe even taking their hand once in a while, the reward is a huge sense of accomplishment and a stronger bond than before.
And I guess I don't always have to be in control, or even completely safe to have fun.