February 3, 2010

Then and Now

For what may have been the sixth time that summer, the siren atop the elementary school blared. My stomach knotted up; I’d noticed the black clouds earlier in the day but hadn’t thought about another tornado warning. So I’d failed to get things ready, and now it was too late. My mother yelled for me to get downstairs. She grabbed my elbow and wrenched me into the hall outside my room. I couldn’t even grab Yellow Bunny, my most cherished stuffed animal; I knew he and all my other possessions would be swept away by the storm.

I stumbled down the stairs, only then realizing something even worse. “Where’s Bandit?” I cried, envisioning our Springer spaniel cowering in the yard.

“He’ll be fine,” answered my father, who’d situated himself in a folding chair at one end of the basement rec room. “He’ll go into his box in the garage.”

“But the tornado will get him!” I screamed, bolting for the steps.

“Sit down!” scolded Mom. She sank into a chair near Dad’s but perched herself on its edge; her stress was palpable. My brother occupied himself on the floor with a few toy trucks, oblivious to the tension or our peril.

“He’ll die!” I screamed, throwing myself onto the old loveseat at the opposite end of the room. I buried my face in the rough-woven fabric and sobbed until we got the all clear an hour later.

Dr. Kathy often admonishes parents to “get over who you wanted your child to be, and love the one you got.” Unfortunately, my experience that day paints an accurate picture of my typical interactions with my parents, who – however unconsciously – weren’t tuned into the sensitive heart with which I’ve been wired. Instead, my mom was consumed with her own anxieties, and my dad seemed bent on toughening me up by alternately making fun of or ignoring my fears and concerns. As a result, I struggled with insecurity and lacked belonging for a long time.

Even during that tornado warning, when I was just nine, I knew they could have done things differently. As I lay there crying, I thought, “If only you’d hold me. Or just say it’ll be okay. Please come here. Please!”

Of course, I can’t change the past. Nor should I now wallow in self-pity and angst. Instead, I’ve chosen to see the good God has wrought of difficult circumstances, and I seek to be different in my own parenting – and in my interaction with the many other children in my life. I know about children’s core needs. So, though I mess up regularly, I think often about how my kids are wired. And I consciously seek ways – by what I say or don’t say, what I do and don’t do – to buoy each one’s sense of security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence. That’s my job as a parent, caregiver, and teacher. That’s your job, too.


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