The world is not a scary place, but, sometimes scary events happen. The world is not filled with terrible people, but, sometimes terrible people do terrible things. The world is kind. People are good. Mostly.
It’s these small fractions of bad we worry about. Obsess over even as we try to give our children useable language and a toolbox in the event of the unthinkable. So, we arm them with lessons while remaining vague and hopeful enough to discourage a feeling of constant, impending doom or fear.
It’s during these conversations that I feel the most inept. How do you talk about strangers when the majority of people they will encounter in life are helpful and kind? How do you encourage trust with a healthy life preserving dose of mistrust? Enough to not take the candy from the stranger…unless it’s Halloween, of course.
In this world of no absolutes – where everything is nuanced and rules bend and shift to fill the shape of the situation, how do we balance living in beauty and taking time to smell the roses while remaining aware of who is behind you while you inhale?
And, how do we respond to the hard and fast rules when there really, truly are no hard and fast rules?
This weekend, we spent the afternoon and early evening at a local event. Families and children in a moderately controlled environment of chaos. When you are a child, there is never enough time when you’re having fun. Hours feel like minutes to the adults watching minutes as if they’re hours. There was a feeling of semi-freedom, the event was car free and partially bordered by uninviting hills. It was perfect – it felt open and yet, somehow, safely contained. The children felt this as well; the lack of fencing but firm boundaries. Lots of running and checking in with very little helicoptering necessary. A lovely balance making grown-ups more relaxed and children, high on freedom.
When it was time to leave, there were the inevitable melt downs. The tears, refusing to put arms in jackets, the wild flailing of legs. We are well versed in the stoic, “This is our reality…stare if you must. Judge lest you be judged.” look. We wear it on our faces with calm because this is life. Sometimes, scary. Mostly good.
Our son, who has entered an age of awareness of his size and destructive capabilities, has turned over a new leaf. There is no level of angry eyes, “listen to my words!” or solemn, clenched teeth that can initiate the desired response. Those days are over. We are in the deep end of something new.
Displeased that the party was over, and that my husband had to physically remove his straining, kicking body from the Scarecrow patch, he said, “HELP! You’re not my Daddy! He’s taking me!”
And our world temporarily stopped spinning. Oh my God. Did he just say that?
Admittedly, part of me was thrilled that the tender lessons we’ve taught sink in. The other part, horrified, as parents we barely know and do not know at all watched us walk this tightrope between complete calamity and focus. As we switched roles, I quickly handed my husband the baby and took hold of my son (paternity now in community question) by the hand. I figured, let’s at least make this LOOK better as women are less likely abductors. This did not stop him. “You’re not my mommy! You’re taking me!” and then he wrenched himself so violently out of my grasp that the seam on my coat, along my shoulder to my arm, ripped. At this point, our facade of normalcy crumbled.
How many times can your own child scream abduction before you break? For me, the answer is twice. I could feel my hands begin to shake with fear and a new level of embarrassment I have never felt started to creep past my toes, eventually making the hair on my arms stand on end. The faces of the crowd shifted as well – watching a family of six, separated by more than 100 feet, achingly try to make their way home with The Boy Who Cried Wolf in tow.
There is no great life lesson learned here except the lesson I tried to impart to my son as he half-listened while constructing his Transformer. The tools in your toolbox can be incredibly dangerous when used inappropriately. Using the wrong tool for the job can render it useless if ever the time comes that it must be used. For this mother, there is nothing more terrifying than that. Even though the world is kind and good. Mostly.