–by Laura Dennis
“You’re safe now,” my friend said, stroking my hair as I sipped a glass of water.
Some time later, my daughter said nearly the same.
Both times, I curled softly into sleep.
Not much of a story, is it? Woman gets scared, woman finds safety, woman sleeps. For me, though, this story is remarkable. I’d been fighting an epic migraine, one that had started clawing up the side of my face during a five-hour drive. That was the spoken reason for my fear. The unspoken reason, the one only those closest to me guessed, was that my son had lost it again, the first…and worst…time in a while. If there hadn’t been others around to intercede, well, best not continue that thought. And yet, although a wave of fear did indeed ripple through me, it crested somewhere far beyond.
It’s not that I didn’t take my son’s threat seriously. I did. He’s injured me before and I know he could again, especially since he’s grown. I used to be so afraid of his anger that I could scarcely function, much less parent effectively. But I also know that if faith and years of therapy have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t conquer fear with fear. Only love can stand up to fear. My son might bluster and brawl till the bitter end, show me the “fight” part of “fight or flight” at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view…). It looks a lot like hate and maybe sometimes it is, but most of all, he’s acting out of fear, fear born from early years filled with abuse and neglect. In a way, I get that. After all, for years I was reacting out of fears all my own.
You might think I want to forget those years, now that for me, at least, they’ve passed. You’re not entirely wrong. Those were hard and dark times, and even with therapy, medication, faith, and meditation, they could come again. At the same time, however, those dark days are a gift. Before I met my son, I’d not really known much by way of fear; without him, I might never have understood what it is to be anxious and afraid. Knowing this as intimately as I now do has made me not only a more therapeutic parent, it’s made me a better mom, teacher, person, and friend.
All people, especially children, deserve to feel safe. It’s a tough road, I know, but let’s keep trying to create the security that they need. Who knows? Perhaps one day, when we stroke our children’s heads and tell them they’re now safe, they will believe us enough to wrap their troubled souls in our love and maybe, finally rest.