My niece Flaminia once said, “If you don’t go to the party, you don’t get a balloon.”
She was only about seven or eight at the time (she’s twelve now), and I doubt she realized how profound her words actually were. But her spontaneous words of wisdom reflect her personality. Flaminia is a clever, determined little girl who doesn’t just rise to challenges, she creates them. And when she goes to parties, she comes home with fistfuls of balloons.
I like balloons too. The trouble is: I’m a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat. Put me in a challenging, unfamiliar situation and I feel the fear. My half-Italian origins erupt in my armpits, my pulse risks a speed ticket, my bladder becomes super demanding. My instincts urge me to never say boo to a sparrow, let alone a goose. My list of favorite things read like that annoying song in “The Sound of Music” (which is now going to be stuck in my head all day…).
But life isn’t all whiskers on kittens and when the going gets tough, retail therapy doesn’t provide any answers. As my dressage teacher says (when Kwintus, my horse, has personal opinions that clash with mine), “Push him through it.” Five hundred kilos of equines opinions can be daunting, but when the argument ceases and harmony prevails, there’s no feeling like it.
“You should enter Kwintus in the competition this weekend,” said Pam, my dressage teacher’s daughter, shortly after having seen me enjoying a particularly harmonious equestrian moment. “He’s going really well. It would be a pity not to.”
My heart skipped the country and raced off along a German motorway (most of it still doesn’t have speed restrictions). My bladder threatened to pull the plug. What? Me? Compete? No! I suck! I don’t know the dressage program. And even if by some miracle I manage to learn it, I’ll get inside the arena and forget it.
I’ll fall off. I’ll throw up in front of the judges. Besides, I’ve gained weight and my white jodhpurs won’t fit me. I need new ones (retail therapy!), but the shop closes in an hour and they probably won’t have my size anyway.
Pam raised an eyebrow and gave me one of her sly smiles. She’s not a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat. She’s one hundred percent lioness.
“Sure you can! Come on! Just learn the program and leave the rest up to Kwintus. He’s a pro. He’ll take care of you,” she said, striding off in her shiny boots.
My heartbeat stayed on the German autobahn. I was torn. Half of me wanted to rise to the challenge, to show the world what a fabulous horse I have. The other half wanted to hide in a soft cozy place until the horsey weekend was over and it was safe to practice my flying changes incognito again.
But Kwintus nuzzled me. I looked into his kind, brown eyes, stroked his soft, cozy nose and decided he deserved to show off the smooth moves he’d been so generously sharing with me. With my heartbeat still powering towards Hamburg and my body as floppy as a soft toy, I staggered off to find Pam and stammered something about being up for it. Then I hopped into my car and rushed off to the horse equipment shop to buy new jodhpurs.
They didn’t have my size.
Oh well! Never mind. That’s that, then! I cruised home, certain that I’d never get into my old ones. I’d just have to phone Pam and tell her I couldn’t ride the competition. Saved by excess blubber!
The old ones fit perfectly.
Panic set in again.
I printed out a copy of the dressage program and started prancing around an imaginary arena in the garden while my husband looked on, shaking his head and laughing his pert little bottom off. I ignored him and continued to prance, stopping only when I was I’d been brainwashed to enter at A, halt at X, etc…
I didn’t sleep well and was a basket case throughout Saturday. Heck, I couldn’t even breathe properly. All I could think about was how terrified I was about riding Kwint in front of the judges first thing Sunday morning.
But when I woke up Sunday morning, something inside me felt different. My heart had given up speeding and was gradually cruising home. I was ready to go to the party. And I really fancied a balloon.
“I can do this,” I repeated over and over to myself, driving towards the stables at the crack of dawn.
And I did. I held it together. I didn’t suck. I didn’t vomit. I didn’t fall off. And people actually cheered and clapped when I made my final salute. I dropped my reins and gave my horse a hug. I even gave him a kiss. He deserved it. And what do you know? We finished in third place, coming away with more than just a balloon.
I’m not going to wax lyrical on the moral of this story; it’s not exactly a psychological breakthrough. Nike said it all in their famous slogan: “Just do it!”
All I’m saying is that some challenges are worth getting hot and flustered for.
Winning my husband’s heart and raising a family together are obvious examples. Getting my first book, Mucho Caliente!, published is another example that springs to mind. I may be a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat but, increasingly, I realize I have a quiet resilience that can get me through tough moments and frustrating situations. Not only do I dare to dream, I also dare to do. It’s exhilarating, though no less terrifying.
My half Italian origins will always erupt in my armpits. So what? I’ll just buy extra strength deodorant! My bladder will continue to make unreasonable demands. Pff! I’ll engage my pelvic floor!
Dealing with my speed buff heart will be more of a challenge, but I’m pretty sure that, sooner or later, the German government will impose speed restrictions on all of its motorways. And when it does, my pulse won’t have any more reason to skip the border, and will instead cruise calmly ever after along our radar-infested Swiss motorways. I hope so, because it would certainly take the edge off bringing balloons home from parties.
“MUCHO CALIENTE! – Wish upon a Latino Superstar”
Available from BookStrand on November 11, 2008