Being Brave



What are you afraid of? I’ll wait right here while you think about what scares you the most.

For me, I’m afraid of a lot of things. Like zombies. They terrify me. The idea of sprinting from zombies is scary. Can’t watch any of those zombie movies or shows, they’re just too much for me. In the end though, that’s not what really scares me. I mean, what are you REALLY afraid of? I’m talking about the kind of fear that makes your heart race, your armpits sweat stinky anxiety sweat, you’re paralyzed, and a panic attack is most certainly imminent.

For me, I’m really afraid of heights.


When we used to live in NYC and Yankees tickets were actually affordable, we’d find ourselves up in the nosebleed section for games on a week night. I’d sit in the seat paralyzed with fear, and had to drink an overpriced crappy beer just to take the edge off.

I remember when I first met my husband we talked about our passions and hobbies. For him, skiing was his passion. I figured, well if we’re going to make this work, I better figure out how to like skiing. Upon the first trip up the ski lift, I clutched his arm, buried my head in his shoulder and told him to tell me when we got to the top of the mountain. It was then that I confessed that I could never love skiing and that he would have to love me for who I am. Fortunately for me, my husband was and still is a very accepting man.

Fast forward to 11 years later and we’re about to embark upon a family vacation to Sonoma for a trip of wine drinking, kayaking…and you guessed it…an early morning hot air balloon ride. Most normal people would be excited and thrilled to be able to partake in this once in a lifetime opportunity. I immediately started panicking just thinking about it. I could have easily said no thanks and passed up this adventure, but there is a still a part of me that likes to live life to its fullest. I don’t like my fears and anxiety getting in the way of having fun. So I knew I was going to have to figure out how to make this work without panicking while suspended up in the air in an oversized picnic basket.

Here’s where it gets tricky…my 5 year old son was going with us on the balloon ride. Children are so easily swayed and they are often reflections of us as parents. I didn’t want to instill the fears that I had about heights on to him. I made the mistake of telling him that I was afraid of heights but that the trip would be super fun. The morning of the trip we were stopping for a potty break and I said to him, “Henry are you SO excited for our balloon ride this morning ?”  His response was, “yeah I guess, but I’m afraid of heights.” I responded back, “you don’t have to be afraid of heights, it’s going to be fun.” He then said, “but you’re afraid of heights Mom, so I’m afraid of heights.” How could I have been so stupid to not realize that my child is watching, observing, and listening to everything I say and do?


On Tuesday morning we took our balloon ride in the St. Helena Valley. I’d be lying if I told you that I just took a few deep meditative breaths, got in the balloon and went for a ride and smiled the whole time. In reality…I drank a small bottle of Kahlua and vodka in my coffee that morning to help take the edge off.

The moment the balloon started filling with hot air and we started our ascent, I turned away from Henry so he didn’t see the panic on my face. My father-in-law apparently has a great picture of me furiously biting my nails as we started to take off. It wasn’t until we were up in the air, and I looked over at Henry blissfully staring out of the balloon, that I started to feel at ease. He had no fear. No anxiety. All I saw was his beautiful round moon-pie face in the morning sun looking down at the world below him. “Hey Mom”, he said. “Look at all those cars below, they look like matchbox cars.” My white knuckle grip loosened on the safety handles, and we started a game of I-spy from 1000 feet above. The rest of the balloon flight was magical. There are many things we can learn from our children. Bravery is one of them.


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Heather Polifka-Rivas
Heather is originally from upstate New York but her family returned to Vermont 4 years ago. They have lived in NYC and Chicago the past 10+ years and are happy to be back in Vermont. Heather's previous jobs as a starving actor in NYC, package design guru at Estee Lauder, and advisor to fortune 500 companies at Chicago’s top business school have not prepared her for her current job today: stay at home mom to Henry (7) and Ruby (3). A self proclaimed foodie, Heather spends her "many" hours of free time preparing elaborate meals, eating out, tending to her garden, canning it's bounty and willing her one tapped maple tree to weep more sap. She is also a mother runner.


  1. Heather, this is so inspiring! I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to hear that you took one for the team and got into that “picnic basket” with Henry. It is so hard not to instill bravery into your child instead of fear, and I suspect that is what you did when you got into the balloon. Henry might have taught you to be brave, but he wouldn’t have been able do do so without your being brave for him.

    Now, if someone could tell me how not to worry about my 25-year old daughter who is “somewhere” in Maine and about to go white water rafting, I’d appreciate it. Your post, however, helps me let go a little.


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