My wife and I were traveling, and found ourselves on a journey in Toronto for the weekend with our three-year old son, Noah. I say “found” as at this point 15 years later I do not remember why were there just that it was not the destination and that we had not planned the trip. We travel a lot however with a three year old we usually did not go to big cities. We were much more likely to be in the mountains of Pennsylvania or the beaches of Price Edward Island. Non-the less Toronto is where we were.
We were and still our strong believers in the philosophy that children learn through what they experience. My wife is a natural teacher and would always plan how best for us to both have fun with and provide a chance for us to teach our son.
Since we “found” ourselves in Toronto she had not planned anything so we began to discuss what to do and how to spend our short time there.
If you have ever been to Toronto you know that one of it’s most striking features is the CN Tower, the tallest building in North America. Not only is it tall but also it has three other distinguishing features.
1) It is a needle – That is it does not look like a building at all with it is a long pillar with a cone on the top
2) It has the tallest observation deck in North America
3) On one of the observation decks It has a “glass” Floor
Could there be a better experience for a three year old and his parents to share. We got in line and purchased our tickets and rode the elevator up to the first observation deck. We walked around, pointed out the lake, the buildings the cars, we looked down in to the baseball stadium we were being the experiential teachers we loved. We were showing him a view on the world that would be with him forever.
We than went down a floor, down to the one with the “glass floor”. The entire floor is not “glass” and there is a big sign that explains how the floor is not actually glass but rather a substance that is actually stronger than the solid floor of the rest of the deck. I guess that makes it the safest place on the deck. We were excited to add this experience of looking down on the world to our son’s life.
There was no one else in the area the three of us approached the edge of the glass. Noah ran out in front of us right on to the middle of the glass, he loved it dancing and laughing, I went to follow him out on the “glass” I could not, my feet would not move, my legs were heavy, my heart raced fear filled me, I could not move. I had never experienced it and would not have thought so but found that I was afraid of the height.
Watching him I was terrified, looking at my son out on that “glass” I was so caught up in him and the “danger” that I felt him to be in, that it took a moment to realize my wife shared my same fear. She stood beside me, her eyes bursting from her head in terror. We were both frozen, unable to move. As much as we knew the safety of the floor our minds could not will our bodies to step out to get him. I asked him to return to me, he laughed and played, not really defying me more caught up in what was to him one of the coolest things he had ever done. We both called for him, circling the “glass” unable to reach him across this “impossible” divide. My wife tried to bribe him with his favorite, M&M’s, no go, not even these “magic” pills would convince him. Now it did become defiance, he knew we could not go to him and for a moment he had the control. Him playing and us pleading for what seemed like all day but was only a few minutes, and he did we returned to terra firma and we finished our weekend in Toronto.
A little over a year and 1/2 latter he died at 4½ and our time as his teacher ended. We are his parents and always will be but no longer his teacher. We now found ourselves again on another journey, also one we had not planned. This time we were on a life long journey of grief.
Fast-forward 13 years; we have two other sons Ivan and Vladik. We live in New Hampshire and they both go to School in Michigan. With all their stuff the only practical way to get from here to there is to drive and the best way takes us right by Toronto. Our youngest son Ivan loves tall buildings and cities so we knew we had to stop in Toronto and that we had to return to the CN tower. We did not want to, in fact my wife and I were both dreading it, but we still are parents who want to teach by experience so we knew we would return.
This time as we rode the elevator my wife and I were quiet, when we arrived at the observation deck we told our sons to explore without us for a little bit, not wanting our melancholy to take away from their experiences. As soon as we were alone I was overcome with a drive, a need an overwhelming desire to return to the “glass” floor. I told my wife I need to go down the flight of stairs and return, to my surprise she had the same feeling. We were being led to this floor.
With tears in our faces but strength in our step we walked down the one fight of steps to the observation deck with the glass floor. I again felt my heart pounding and my leg muscles tensing. This time it was not fear but determination that carried us to the glass floor. This time is was crowded with people talking, laughing, laying on the floor taking pictures. No one paid attention to us as with confidence and with the carefree ease of Noah we both walked out to the center of the floor, we jumped we laughed we played in defiance in the middle of the glass. As tears flowed our fear of the height was gone; I loved looking down on the world.
Noah has died but our relationship with him has not. It has changed, he has gone before us, he is now the teacher and we are the students, he has taught us so much on this journey Including how to break through our fear of the “glass floor”, Not only the one in Toronto but all of the “glass” floors and the fears that they represent.