I Refuse To Let The 'What-Ifs' Scare Me This School Year

by Missy McCormick
Originally Published: 
How Jumping Into 59-Degree Water Helped Prepare Me For The 2020 School Year
Courtesy of Missy McCormick

I stared into the turquoise water below me. It definitely didn’t look that high up when I was waiting in line, but now that I was on the edge of the diving board, that frigid, 59-degree water seemed way less inviting.

It was our first trip for the summer of 2020. Which is ridiculous, because it was the end of August. Normally at this point, we would have already wrapped up a National Parks road trip, or a vacation abroad. But, you know, 2020.

I had booked one of the last available Airbnbs in New York’s Finger Lakes, for the only open four days they had all summer. We spent a week hiking, kayaking out onto Seneca Lake for sunsets, and generally pretending we were living in a normal, pre-COVID world where families could travel between states without needing to quarantine upon returning home.

Flipping through a travel guide at our rental home two days earlier, I had come across a picture of people leaping off a diving board at the base of a waterfall. We had to check it out!

When we arrived at Robert Treman State Park, the parking lot was pretty full. We gathered our bags and donned our masks as we made our way down the path to the swimming hole, reminders to stay six feet apart posted every step of the way.

Being the good mother that I am, I convinced each of my three kids to give the diving board a shot. I told them they would regret it if they didn’t try. Looking back, I explained, they would want to be happy with the choice they made. And who knew when we would be here again?

I took videos and cheered them on.

All three of them climbed out of the ice-cold water, smiles plastered on their faces, as they shivered in the socially-distanced line, waiting to do it all over again. When my husband started jumping, I knew that was it.

I had no out. What kind of a hypocrite would I be if I convinced my kids to overcome their fears, only to cave, and succumb to my own?

So there I was. Standing on the edge of the diving board, staring at the icy water.

And of course, I was scared. The logical part of my brain rattled off the reasons why I shouldn’t do it. It was unknown. It was dangerous. There were so many “what-ifs.”

Courtesy of Missy McCormick

What would it be like?

What would it feel like?

How would my body respond?

But I told the logical part of my brain to shut up. And I jumped.

It was frigid. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

It was the best feeling ever.

I swam over to meet my crew at the base of the waterfall; the smile on my face matching those of the rest of my family. We sat on the rocks, talking about our jumps, watching the steady flow of people face their fears as they flew through the air into the water below; our little family bonded together by the notion that we had all been in it together.

Later that night, as my kids slept in the back of our well-loved minivan, I realized the significance of that jump.

We’re living in a world of unknowns. Things are scary and dangerous. Every day we have to make a choice: Do we stay home, the only logical place that feels secure? Or do we face those unknowns in a smart, safe way, leaning on the people we love?

Our kids have been home since the middle of March. Some of us have let them see small groups of friends, and some people have stuck to their family circle.

And no way is the right way.

Regardless, we have had control over where they go and who they see. This control has given us a sense of security.

And now it’s September. Whether it’s virtual, hybrid, or in-person, our kids are heading into a new school year — one that will be different from others in every possible way.

It’s scary.

It’s unknown.

There are so many “what-ifs.”

But here’s what I learned when I stood on that diving board: We may never (hopefully) find ourselves here again. Looking back, will we be happy with the choices we made? Will we succumb to our fears, and let them control us?

Once again, I’m telling the logical part of my brain to shut up. I’m telling myself that if we’re smart and safe, the unknowns will be okay. They might even be exciting.

So, I’m jumping right in. Knowing that no matter what, our little family is in it together.

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