"Gimme a second," I said, and I braced myself to make the leap that I'd been watching my children make over and over again for almost an hour, while I took shot after shot.
"C'mon, Mom! It's a rush!" said Hollywood, climbing up the cragged side of the cliff to take another go at it.
"Just a second," I said, stepping a little closer to the edge. Then I stepped back again.
"She won't do it," said Balthazar.
"Don't say that." Sunshine came to my defense.
"It's just not her thing," he said. He was right. He'd seen me stand for thirty minutes on the edge of a similar cliff in Mexico, years earlier, trying to convince myself to just jump. I never could.
"You'll regret it if you don't," said Hollywood, standing beside me now.
I didn't so much regret not jumping in Mexico, but I was disappointed in myself. Then I got over it. A fear of heights isn't a big deal in the scheme of things--I've braved enough else to make up for it.
"You go first," I said to Hollywood.
"That's what you said last time."
I'd been at it for about fifteen minutes already, approaching the edge, then backing off again, making room for someone else to jump.
"I'll hold your hand," he said.
"Just go," I said.
"Face your fears," he said, before he made another wild leap into the air.
This went on for almost an hour, while the kids spouted years of my own psychology back at me. Then encouragement turned to pleading: "Do it for me. It'll be cool to tell my friends that my mom cliff jumps." Pleading turned to bribery: "I'll make my bed every day." The Storm even got stern with me: "You're not leaving here until you jump, Missy." She looked reproachful with her hands on her hips.
Here's the thing: It didn't mean that much to me. Sure, the water looked refreshing and I wanted to join in on the family fun, but I didn't really feel a pressing need to conquer this fear of heights. It was just a part of me--I'd accepted it.
"But you're the mom. You're not afraid of anything," said Sunshine, to lend a more complicated spin to the situation, and to explain the thoughtful glances The Storm kept stealing my way.
"Count to ten," I said, and I rallied my courage while The Coop rhymed off numbers in unison.
"... eight, nine, ten."
"I can't," I said, stepping back again.
While they went on to leap, and splash, and laugh some more, occasionally calling out to me, I knew I had to get up my nerve. Not so much for me, but for them, whom I'd coaxed over, around, and directly on the back of fear a thousand times through the years. And for The Storm and the insecurity that I could see seeding in the confusion on her nine-year-old brow, for her chicken Mama.
But try as I might, I could not muster the courage to fling myself over the edge of that damn cliff. I just couldn't. And a real sense of self-disappointment--one that smacked of maternal failure--began to set in.
Another full hour later, the sun fell toward dinner time and the homework hour. It was time to go.
"You sure you don't want to jump?" said Hollywood, toweling off.
"I'm sure," I said, while the rest of them climbed out one-by-one.
I watched from my perch as Sunshine pulled herself over the cliff's edge and made her way to our gear. Then, Balthazar yanked himself over and while he did, from the corner of my eye, I saw The Storm slip on the jagged rocks. I heard her cry and saw her splash backward into the water below. I rushed to the edge to watch for her to emerge. She wasn't hurt, but the fear in her eyes as they met mine, was enough to have me leap from the cliff without a single thought in my head, but to comfort my baby.
I guess that's what it means to be a Mama. Chicken or otherwise.