One mom’s story of a child’s overwhelming concern.
He came tearing away from the school bus with his backpack flailing and his water bottle strapped around his neck and flying away from his body as he ran. He wailed, mouth wide, running to the car, tears streaming down his face mingling with the outburst of rain, thunder and lightning.
I had already opened the van’s side door and was obliviously waiting for his arrival in the cozy nook of my seat, but one look at his traumatized face flying toward me propelled me into the rain. The closer he came, the louder he wailed.
I knew what was going on, of course. He had been experiencing this kind of drama over the course of the summer, especially with all the storms we had in July. It was the lightning and thunder and the thought that perhaps — just maybe — he would be one of the unfortunate few to be struck by a deadly bolt.
We both scrambled into the cool car, drenched and suddenly chilled. Noah began to calm down as I held him with our bodies awkwardly wedged between seats.
It had been sunny when he boarded the bus, he told me. Everything was fine driving along, until he noticed a nearing patch of darkened sky. He saw the lightning first, he said, then heard the thunder. That’s when he began to wonder where his family was. He hoped we weren’t standing under a tree. He said he started thinking that we must have been killed. All of these macabre thoughts were swirling around in his head brought on by the piercing power of lightning.
“Honey, honey, honey,” I whispered. “Everything’s OK. You don’t have to worry. Remember we talked about this? How lightning hardly ever strikes people? How it happens so rarely?” I offered.
He nodded, teeth chattering, unchanged.
I couldn’t tell him that people NEVER get hit by lightning. So I tried one more thing.
“Besides, you have rubber on the bottom of your tennis shoes … you’re covered!”
He looked at his feet, then looked at me.
“Really?” he brightened. “If I have rubber on my feet I won’t get hit by lightning?”
“Nope,” I said confidently. I’d heard that somewhere. It came in handy now.
“Do Alex and Tucker and you and Dad have rubber on your shoes, too?”
“Oh, yes, we sure do.”
He twisted around to look at my feet. Yes, I had rubber soles on my shoes. Then we began to drive. I peered at him behind me periodically. Soon he was humming and playing with a wooden toy he had pulled from his backpack. I resisted the urge to belabor my points. Together, we moved on.
Kids are nothing if not resilient. Sometimes we underestimate how strong they actually are. While they may seem so small and vulnerable at times — especially when resiliency shatters in the face of an overwhelming storm — we don’t need to over-do the comfort we provide. They may need a little coaxing, a little hand holding, but after three kids, I realize I didn’t have to hold my oldest’s hand as long as I did or cut her meat when she was more than capable of doing it herself or fill in the blank parts of sentences she was preparing to finish. We think we’re helping. Then we learn better.
The more independence we offer children, the better off they are. While we don’t want to know that they don’t need us, there is truth to the notion that they don’t need us as much as we think they do … that actually most would be better off if we stepped further away and enabled them to manage by themselves. Enablers of independence.
Human beings are powerful souls. Some things we can’t possibly comprehend — like nature whipping up an unruly frenzy. We can’t cope with what we can’t comprehend, and when we can’t comprehend, we shut down. We start to wail, run for cover, grab onto someone that may possibly be able to explain things to us, even if it’s unexplainable — like the erratic behavior of lightning.
Isn’t parenting fun?
When kids are young we have no clue as to how they’ll turn out. Raising them, we grapple with choices, sometimes pulling things out of thin air to offer in the way of encouragement. Kids will go through their dramas on their own. We’re along for the ride. Sometimes it’s good to allow us to be passengers in their lives and not so much the drivers.
Susan Day is editor in chief of this publication.