Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Flashes of Lightning

I think one of the hardest parts of being a parent is knowing the right thing to say at the right time...or avoiding the wrong thing.

My mother once asked me to stop singing in the car. I learned years later that she'd only meant not to sing then, but "don't sing" has given me a phobia for life. I won't do it if the music isn't loud enough to drown me out.

My parents divorced when I was seven. When I told my father I was getting married, he didn't expect to walk me down the aisle. His easy acceptance of our relationship as adults made it possible for us to have one.

Last night we had a serious thunderstorm, and my daughter, who will be seven in a few weeks, was frightened. It's instinctive for us, as parents, to reassure our kids, to try to soothe their fears by telling them they are unnecessary. But that wasn't working, and I felt I was making things worse by making her feel bad for being afraid.

So I told her it was reasonable to be afraid of lightning, it can be dangerous. I talked about why, and why it's unlikely to harm us, as dangerous as it is. I talked about my father getting me out of bed when I was little so we could watch the storms, and watching them in the record-setting heat of the summer of 88, when I lived next to a farm and had wide sky to watch the lightning. A sharp cloud-to-cloud bolt streaked in front of us, and I awwwed at it.

Within seconds, my daughter was doing the same. By the time we got home, she was begging me to let her stay up late so she could watch.

So what part worked? Was it my reassurances? My endorsement of her fear? My stories, or the beauty of the lightning itself? Or was I incidental to the whole change? Was is my daughter's own ability to adjust, or even the natural adaption to the circumstances, i.e. comfort grows as exposure continues?

I'll never know for sure, but whatever it was, it made me proud to watch.

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