The Slide

There’s a story from my childhood that I love. My grandmother used to tell it to me all the time. Any younger sisters with an older brother can probably relate. (Because come on big brothers, why must you torture us?)

I grew up with the kind of grandparents I hope everyone has—the kind that show up, send cards, bring presents, make phone calls, and genuinely want to spend time with you. As a kid, it meant endless trips to their farm in Covington, Tennessee. It meant visits that consisted solely around having fun—renting movies, playing cards, going to the mall, doing whatever it was my siblings and I wanted to do while we were there.

And for us as kids, that always included trips for high quality meals at places like Burger King.

Yes, Burger King was our ultimate choice of cuisine for many childhood years. I can’t think about it too long as an adult or I’ll throw up. I think it’s safe to assume many of my health problems as an adult probably stem from an overconsumption of Burger King as a child.

Of course childhood visits to Burger King weren’t complete without an extensive stay on the playground. Slides, monkey bars, those tunnels that feel like a sauna in the sun (a cesspool of germs no doubt). My grandparents let us spend as much time as we wanted running wild on the Burger King playground after every lunch.

At three years old, there’s only so much you could—or should—do on that playground. The slides were too big and windy for my little body so my grandparents suggested I leave them to my brother and stick to the swings and smaller slides. And that’s what I usually did.

Until one day, I heard my brother from the top of the tallest, windiest slide in all of Burger King’s history, beckoning me to join him.

“Come on up, Sara,” he said. “It’s fun!”

And without hesitation, I did. My three-year-old hands gripped the rails, and I started the climb to the top of the slide. Now to be honest, I have to tell you that I can’t remember the height of the slide or the sharpness of the curves. As I’ve seen these playgrounds as an adult, I can’t imagine it was that terrible. My grandmother, however, insisted it was much too tall and curvy for any little girl. In fact, as she told the story more over time, I think that slide got bigger and curvier in all of our minds. It was basically the stairway to heaven by the time she finished telling it.

All I know is, when I reached the top, my grandparents realized I was up there alongside my brother. He was helping me get seated and situated to send me down the slide. But my grandparents? They were screaming for me to come back down the ladder.

“Come on, Sara, it’s fun,” Will was assuring me.

“Come down, Sara. It’s too big and too fast. Come back to the ground with us,” my grandparents were yelling.

If that’s not a metaphor for the rest of my life, I don’t know what is! A constant struggle between what feels fun and free and wild and what feels safe and grounded and within reason—this is the story of my life. There’s never really been a middle ground for me. You were either one—fearless and free—or the other—safe and certain.

It’s been the struggle of my life to try to find the balance of both.

That day though, there was no choice. I climbed that slide, got to the top, took my seat, and went sliding down the slide without hesitation (and of course a little shove from my brother to get me going).

My grandmother said it was the most terrifying thing she’d ever seen—my little three-year-old body whipping and winding around the edges and almost shooting over the sides at one point. She and my grandfather hustled to the bottom and waited for me to make it out on the other side. They were certain there would be tears, wailing, and fear in my eyes. But instead, they were met with only wide eyes and laughs. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t worried. I just dove down that slide, unaware of the danger and without fear of what was around the next turn.

I love that story for a lot of reasons, but mostly, I love that story because it reminds me that inside me somewhere is a fearless little girl—a girl who isn’t scared of heights or rule bending or facing the unexpected or trying something new. I love that girl. But as I’ve grown up, that girl has become harder and harder to find. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that she ever even existed.

Stepping out to be a writer on my own has felt a lot like that Burger King slide did as a child—curvy, treacherous, and nauseating at times but yet somehow an incredible adventure. With the responsibility to make it work resting solely on my shoulders, it’s been easy to give in to the safe and certain side of myself much quicker than I used to. My temptation is always to stifle the risk taker in favor of the rule follower.

But lately in the moments when I’ve felt gripped by the complete and total terror of the uncertainty ahead, I’ve tried to think about the little girl who went fearlessly down the slide all those years ago. It reminds me that at least at one point in my life, I was that girl. And if she was in there back then, she has to be in there now, just waiting to go head first in to the next adventure.

I’m learning more and more each day how important it is to find the balance between the Sara of my childhood and the Sara of my adulthood. God created each one uniquely and knit them together inside of me in such a way that I know they can both coexist. In fact, I think life looks a lot better when I give them both room to flourish.

Wild and free.

Safe and certain.

The longer I’m on this road, the more I realize just how well they actually fit together.  

Sara Shelton