Risks: Then & Now

Forget beauty. RISK is in the eye of the beholder–or at least the person doing the risking. Risk is totally relative–as Beth mentioned in her recent post, her idea of a “bad boy” as a teenager was probably very different from yours. One person could perceive skydiving as a “suicide jump”, while it could be someone else’s refreshing free-fall from an airplane. For some people, a black diamond ski run is a risk, whereas someone like my dad, who learned how to ski at age 50, just going down the easy mile is tricky. Contrast this to my cousin, for whom nothing short of ski-jumping off an unmarked cliff in the Himalayas would be considered “risky”.

Perceived risk diminishes with repetition and experience. For example, we all take a risk when we drive, but most of us don’t give it a second thought when we hop in our cars.  Someone may view eating worms as “Fear Factor” worthy, while another from a different culture might view it as a tasty delicacy. I remember my mother telling us of the time she travelled to France and wanted to take a “risk” by ordering Lambs Brains off the menu. She expected it would be mixed in with other ingredients, which she thought she could handle. Imagine her surprise when it arrived, sans anything, just a lonely looking lamb’s brain with a pad of melting butter as the only garnish.

lamb's brain with a little more garnish. Yum!

lamb’s brain with a little more garnish. Yum!

When I lived in Uganda, I tried the local delicacy of fried grasshoppers (they only come around once a year). It was quite a risk for me, but for Ugandans they are an expensive treat equivalent to, maybe, lobster or king crab. Actually they tasted quite like crunchy fried chicken.

Grasshoppers fried in oil, salt and chopped onion.

Grasshoppers fried in oil, salt and chopped onion.

Ok, I’m not sure why I am focusing so much on culinary risks–maybe because I like to eat?. Which brings me to another point: Usually, when we take risks, it is because we have an expectation of enjoying the end result, and maybe learning something in the process, “building character” as they say. The perceived reward outweighs the perceived “risk” of danger. Being rewarded by a delicious and unique flavor experience is my motivation for trying out new and strange foods that could perhaps make me sick. A few months ago I wrote about the differences in culinary attitudes between my Ugandan husband and I. For example, he would rear back in disgust from my plate of raw sushi, but wouldn’t think twice about chewing on little shriveled up fish that have been drying in the sun.

That being said, I have noticed that the types of risks I have been taking recently have changed slightly. Let’s look at the kinds of risks I was taking when I was younger and “singler”:

1) Culinary:

As I mentioned before, I ate grasshoppers, as well things like frogs legs, steak tartar (kind of like raw hamburger), chocolate with bacon in it, etc. I liked to order something different from the menu each time, try all kinds of different ethnic foods. I loved a good culinary challenge. When a friend of mine teased me about being sensitive to spicy food, I deliberately tried to select the spicier menu items just to try to build up my tolerance.

Me in Slovenia, right before eating horse meat.

Me in Slovenia, right before eating horse meat.

2) Social:

Ok, so this was a big one for me. I have come to think of the whole introvert/extravert thing as being on a spectrum. I started out life as an exuberant extravert, and then life circumstances (uh…adolescence??) forced me into hiding as a painfully shy and awkward introvert. Then I started taking some social risks: volunteering as president for Amnesty International and forcing myself to declare human rights from a public loud speaker for example. I tried out for the school theater group and auditioned by choosing a monologue which involved me talking while peeing on a beach (not really peeing, folks, it was all pretend, geez…). I got in. I performed Shakespeare in front of the whole school and joined a sport (rowing crew). I had some horribly scary moments, but grew tremendously from the whole experience, and learned to be social again– I could face my fears and survive.

3) Traveling:

Traveling has its share of risks (pickpocketing being probably one of the least of them)–but I love it. Some of the risks I have taken have been to travel and live by myself in different countries: Estonia, Italy, and most recently, Uganda. Backpacking with a friend for 6 weeks through Eastern Europe was risky–mainly because I was worried if our friendship could maintain itself under that amount of time together. Luckily, we did just fine 🙂

My friend and I, during a stop at Lake Bled, in Slovenia.

A stop at Lake Bled, in Slovenia.

Taking a risk in Finland?

Risky behavior in Finland?

4) Physical:

I have to say, many people have probably trumped me when it comes to physical risks. For me, mine include outdoorsy things like hiking for two weeks through the Green Mountains, bouldering, rappelling into a cave, jumping off of a really, really, high rock into the water, and deciding I was going to live in our tree house at age 9. I lasted 2 nights.

Similar to the jump at our favorite watering hole in Vermont. At least it seemed this high!

Similar to the jump at our favorite watering hole in Vermont. At least it seemed this high!

Fast forward to today: Married, with a 2 year old toddler and a baby on the way. When I think about the kinds of “risks” I have been taking recently, some of them seem very “grown-up” –like starting a new business, but others seem downright boring. One thing I realized is that RISK now has another component: The “other”. Instead of thinking just about my reward, most of the risks I take now take into consideration someone else in my family–how will they be affected by the risk? What will be their reward?

1) Culinary:

Ok, so I still love to eat and try new things. But these days, my idea of a “culinary risk” consists of attempting to take our whole family out to eat (and risk my 2 year old throwing food in someone’s hair, or running away from me and accidentally tripping a waiter)…OR trying to create a homemade meal that both my husband, my toddler and myself will all enjoy. Just tonight I took a risk and made vegetarian lasagne. I know my husband likes it, but what about my 2 year old? I sat there biting my nails as I watched her poke the fork around on her plate. Would she eat it?? Would she spit it out???? Tonight marked a day when a risk was finally rewarded: My toddler actually ate more than 3 bites of something with vegetables in it. The adrenaline rush was unbelievable.

Eating yoghurt:  Always risky.

Eating yoghurt: Always risky.

2) Social:

These days, I am not nearly as shy as I used to be, so most social things aren’t as risky for me. Still, if it is a social gathering where I don’t know anyone, it still feels a bit “risky”–aka “socially awkward.” But I realized that socially I have become pretty predictable and boring. I’m not going to stay out late at some “rager” just to see if I can. I’m probably going to stick with events that are comfortable to me– art, friends, food, career, family. At this point my social risks are around things like how to react in public when Jenna pulls all the grapes off the shelf in the supermarket. I had plenty of opportunities to feel tortured when I was younger. At my age, why torture myself any more than absolutely necessary? 🙂

3) Travel:

Again, a lot more limited than I would like. Traveling to the grocery store with Jenna is a risk all of its own. Yesterday, I went to visit a daycare center with Jenna, PLUS a 6 month old baby I was watching for a friend. I decided it would be good practice for when Baby # 2 comes. Traveling with one child is enough risk…but two????

4) Physical:

Hmmm….pretty boring over here too! I didn’t even get to ski this winter because I didn’t want anyone shaming me for skiing while pregnant (oh the social pressure!). Ok, in hindsight, it was probably a good idea not to . Even though, I did manage to do some rappelling into a hidden underground river when I was 3 months pregnant with Jenna. The boys at Zion’s National Park assured me it was safe! But now, as I am nearing the 38th week of pregnancy, I will be honest in saying that even turning over in bed at night is a risk. Maybe I should get some of those silk pajamas Marta mentioned. That reminds me– pregnancy, birth, raising children–the biggest risk of all!!

We did this a little more than 2 years ago:

IMG_2083

And very soon we are going to do it again! (Although maybe this time in a water tub?? Also, I think I look less exhausted in this photo than I feel right now)

So, dear readers, what do you think? Is the level of risk now higher, lower, or just different? I have definitely noticed that the risks I take now tend to involve others more….so maybe the risks are greater. Think about the leap of marriage, moving as we did to a city where we knew NO ONE? Having children? Then again, pretending to pee on the beach during a monologue…I am glad I never have to do that again. The rewards I gained when I was younger were pretty intense, and I definitely grew a lot from them. But the rewards I am getting from some of the biggest risks I have taken? My beautiful daughter, marriage, connections, friendships? Some risks yield gifts that keep on giving.

Me and Jenna, Beth and Ethan

Me and Jenna, Beth and Ethan

So bring on the risk! Just don’t ask me to walk up those stairs again today.

— Madelene

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