By Rachel Stafford
“But I’ll kneel down,
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down,
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you.”
–Mumford & Sons
At the beginning of any school year, there are always quite a few student information sheets to fill out. But when I came to the pink sheet in my second grader’s folder, I was forced to pause.
What are your child’s fears? What calms your child when upset?
As my pen sat suspended above the blank lines, I let my mind wander into dark territories. What situations would upset my child at school? I knew. Intruders and tornadoes. Thankfully she’d only experienced one of them first-hand, and the tornado did not have a direct hit. But it was close enough to forever alter her perception of storms and the fragility of life.
Thankfully, I knew exactly what would bring comfort to my child if either of these situations arose. She would want to know where her sister was in the building. She would want to know that I was coming for her just as soon as I possibly could.
In other words: tell her where her people are.
I called my daughters to the kitchen. I told them about the pink sheet, as well as the emergency evacuation form provided by the school. At their new school the emergency procedures were different from their previous school. I let the girls know that anytime it was necessary to vacate the building, they would be taken to different safe places—one to the middle school and one to the high school with their respective classes. The girls talked about a few of the drills they’d practiced in the past and remembered how some classmates slept in their classrooms during an ice storm last year. I reminded them that in the event of an emergency, I might not be allowed to come right away, but I would eventually get to them any way I could.
My younger daughter giggled as she typically does when she is scared or nervous. My older daughter nodded casually, although her big brown eyes gave away her true feelings about this topic.
“Even if I am not with you, know for certain that I am waiting for you and praying for you,” I said clutching each of their arms as if to brand that assurance into their skin like a tattoo.
I’d learned the importance of Knowing Where Your People Are early in my parenting journey. My husband and I were staying in a high-rise condo with several members of our extended family when the fire alarm began screaming in the middle of night. My husband and I bolted from our bed looking to retrieve the children who were four-years-old and eleven-months-old at the time. My husband quickly gathered my older daughter in his arms. He stopped me from going to the baby’s room. “Let’s go!” he urged.
“Where’s my baby! Where’s my baby!” I screamed hysterically. For some reason, he did not tell me specifics, only that she was okay and we must get down the stairs. Those were the most agonizing twenty-two flights of stairs I’d ever descended. My heart nearly beat right out my chest in anticipation of finding my baby waiting for me at the bottom.
When I saw her in the arms of a family member, my knees went weak. Her little hands reached for me desperately. For the first time ever, I saw what fear looked like on my child’s little face. She had been wondering where I was. My daughter buried her face into my neck and her body instantly relaxed. In that moment, I realized a person could overcome the most adverse situations simply by knowing where his or her loved ones were. The walls could be coming down, the winds could sound like a freight train, the situation could be growing worse by the second, but there was great comfort in Knowing Where Your People Are.
This understanding has come in quite handy over the past few months. Ever since our move to a new state this summer, fear has not been a stranger in our home. Facing many “firsts” and not knowing anyone caused my older daughter to get very concerned about the Ebola virus. As we talked about it for several nights in a row, I noted her questions centered around what would happen if Daddy got it. Or what would happen if I got it. My assurances focused on the safety precautions that would keep the people she loved safe and healthy.
My younger daughter was very anxious on the day of her first swim team practice. Before we left the locker room, her hands trembled and her eyes filled with tears. This was not the beloved YMCA where she had a family of coaches that loved her. She wanted to go back to the old team, she told me repeatedly. I assured her that first times are always the hardest. I told her I would be sitting on the bench watching and silently cheering on her bravery.
Upon her entry into the water, her goggles flew off. The cold water took her breath away. There were more kids in her lane than she was used to. I could see the fear grip her, and she began to cry. Her coach bent down, speaking calmly and encouragingly. He adjusted her goggles and off she swam. But each time she came to the end of the lane, her eyes met mine. Your people are right here, my face would say. My daughter has proceeded to get four more practices under her belt and the tears have completely subsided. But even now, she still looks for me each time she comes to the end of the lane.
One afternoon, at school dismissal time, a severe storm popped up. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning. The school notified parents that the children would not be released until the weather subsided. My chest tightened. I worried about how my children would react to this situation, especially my younger daughter due to her intense fear of storms. I immediately prayed that my children would feel comforted by their teachers, and they would be kept safe from harm. An hour and a half later, the storm passed, and we were all united.
“Were you okay?” I asked my younger daughter as she squeezed my mid-section until I could barely breathe.
“We were in ‘tuck and duck’ position forever,” she said exhaustedly. “It was like hard exercise!” After a slight pause, she squeezed me again. “But I wasn’t sacred, Mama. I knew that my sister was in the next hall and you were at home praying.”
My friends, the world can be scary. Both the world we see on television each night and the one that meets us each morning whether we’re ready or not. There are firsts we must get through … there are hurtful people that intimidate and bully … there are tough situations with no easy answers … there are hardships and heavy burdens … there are pains within us that cannot even be described. It is not uncommon for our loved ones to lay their fears before us and we just don’t even know what to do with them. It can be excruciating to send the people we love off to school … into the pool … off to college … into battle … or into territories unknown when all we want to do is hug them to our chest and never let them go.
But next time that happens, I want you to remember this beautiful comment left by a reader of my blog:
“Because I sat on the stoop as he went off to elementary school and was there waiting for him when he came home, my son thought I was there all day waiting.”
I cried happy tears knowing a little boy went off to school each day thinking his mother loved him so much that she waited for his return. I felt so thankful that one day, when this boy was grown, he told his mom this story and she shared it with others so we could all remember this:
Do not underestimate the power of Knowing Where Your People Are.
Do not underestimate the comfort that comes from knowing someone is waiting for you.
When our people are safe, we feel safe.
When our people believe in us, we are more likely to believe in ourselves.
So keep cheering from the bleachers … keep waiting on the front steps … keep waving as that bus pulls away … keep bowing your head in quiet reverence. Your mere existence, whether in presence or in thought, is enough to make a fearful heart believe it’s all going to be okay.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.