Don’t Worry Everything Will Be Fine by Conlee Ricketts
As a “grown up” the words, “it will all be O.K.” comforts me because I know—good or bad—the events of my life will roll along as they should. I learned though (the very hard way) that these words are just a big fat lie to a 10 year old.
When my daughter was 10 she had a very rough couple of months. Everything she feared might happen in life, actually started happening! The odds of this were beyond my comprehension as a math teacher and as a mother trying to comfort her and convince her to go to school –one—more—day. We had a very rough year of what some call “school resistance.”
She became very nervous about what I call the “what ifs”. What if the bus breaks down, what if we have a lock down, what if there’s a storm, what if there’s a tornado, what if something happens to you? During her 4th grade school year nearly everything on her list happened! The bus, the storm, the lock down, my broken twisted wrist!
As an example that frames how I “lied” to my child I will share this; in 3rd grade the boy sitting next to her threw up in class. My daughter cried; she hates crying in front of people—she hates having people stare at her period. So the next year when a child in class would announce that they were at school with a cold, or if they had been absent for a few days she would say, “What if they get sick?”
“That’s not very likely. I’m sure everything will be okay,” was my brilliant response. You have to understand in all my years of teaching I’ve been around over a thousand kids and have only been near vomit three times! So going with the odds (again) I thought she was safe. It had already happened in 3rd grade after all, so it probably wasn’t going to happen again in 4th.
Wrong! What happens? Not once, but twice! Twice in one day! One child looses it in her class and another on her bus! In fact it seemed kids were tossing their cookies everywhere my daughter went. The look of betrayal in my daughter’s eyes as she stepped off the bus waiting to pull me aside and tell me just how wrong I was, that everything not okay, I realized that I had to change my words.
I no longer say “Don’t worry” or “It’s okay, I’m sure everything will be fine,” because the reality is—I’m not sure everything will be fine. It’s hard facing her fears honestly without sugar coating things or avoiding the truth but at the same time not frightening her. I am monitoring my thoughts and words more carefully that I ever have.
In the age of regular practice Lock Down Drills and the fact that she experienced two lock downs that were not drills, I can’t tell her everything will be fine. Every lock down, every spring storm with a tornado warning induced “drill” at school, every cookie tossing child, we now celebrate her courage.
I say, “Wow! Are you kidding me? How did you handle that one?” and she will proudly share the details.
“You handled that so well! Do you think other kids were scared?” I ask.
Now when she starts down the “what if” trail—listing all the things she scared might happen at school, or at a friend’s house, or her biggest fear—that I may die, I don’t tell her “everything will be fine.” I say this instead, “Well, I hope none of that happens. We can’t know for sure, but what I do know for sure is that you will be able to handle it. Look at how you handled….” And then I begin to list all the crazy stuff she has already dealt with—and it is a long crazy list!
I am thankful that 5th grade has been much better. She still gets nervous and has her laundry list of what ifs, but I find that it helps to remind her of the triumphs she’s had because as I remind her of what she has already courageously survived it seems that those triumphs have been forgotten. I can see her eyes light up when I begin my list and that makes me smile.