“Dad, should I be scared?”
This is the question my youngest daughter asked me minutes before she was supposed to take the court for a basketball game. Her team was going to be playing during halftime of the high school varsity game, as a part of the last home game of the season. In front of a full gymnasium of people cheering and clapping, my 8 year old looked me straight in the eyes and needed to know if she should be scared.
I paused for a moment.
I have tried to prepare myself for the inevitable barrage of questions my children, who are bound by their DNA, to unleash upon me. While I obviously haven’t been able to plot out every answer to every question they have and will have asked me (hard to have an answer ready for they don’t have gills that will satisfy the 5 year old asking), sometimes the best you can hope for is to just be ready when you get the, “Dad, how are babies made?” question.
Since my kids have been able to form the word ‘why’ (I think they learned it before they learned Dada), I have made it my mission to be ready. Admittedly, it was easier to reel off answers when my children were still under the assumption I was omniscient but as they caught on to my borderline idiocy, I have, at the least, tried to answer my kids questions as honestly (and tactfully) as possible.
However this question my daughter just asked me stopped me in my tracks for a moment.
Why would she be scared to play a game? A game she loved to play. If she was scared, why would she choose now to bring it up? Do I shrug off the question and diminish her emotions? Where was her mother?
Before I blurted out an answer, I remembered she was 8. Thunderstorms can still be pulse pounding. A bad dream isn’t always easily brushed off. We were sitting in a packed auditorium with eyes and attention all on her and her 4 teammates; it isn’t unreasonable my daughter might be nervous.
I also thought about how this question she had just asked me is in large part my fault. In an effort to keep our children safe, parents have a tendency to scare the hell out of them. Short of jumping out of a closet when my kids walked in to a room, I have put the fear of God and the Heimlich maneuver in to them because 1. I didn’t want to have to pay $100 Emergency Room copay simply because I forgot to cut their grapes in half and 2. I don’t know what I would do if my kids got hurt because I hadn’t done my part to protect them.
When her sister was born, I became the first time parent who carried the bottle of Germ-X on his belt like a cowboy’s holstered pistol for when a relative wanted to hold my daughter. I put child locks on doors of cabinets and covers over the doorknobs that only worked well enough to keep me from the cookies and the basement. We didn’t put a blanket or pillow in to her crib until she was almost out of the crib for fear of her being smothered (there is nothing that says parents have to be rational when it comes to protecting their children).
I’ve scared my kids about the stove, electrical outlets, crossing the street, and running after balls in to the street, going down the steps, going up the steps, and the choking hazards involved with hot dogs. Consequently, that led to my kids being afraid all the time and for mundane things. It got to a point where my kids weren’t afraid of the boogeyman, they were afraid the boogeyman would be running around their rooms carrying scissors.
The truth was I had been scared; scared something might happen to my girls. Scared they would get hurt because I wasn’t close enough to them to prevent it from happening or hadn’t warned them about whatever dangers lurked around the corner.
Scaring my kids worked wonders when they were infants. They never choked once and our emergency room visits were mostly relegated to intense illnesses. But I did my kids a disservice for all of those times I scared them thinking that would keep them safe because the truth is, at some point I won’t be able to keep them safe. It won’t be long before they will be traveling down the roads of this world on their own and they will come face to face with their fears. Because while it is my job to protect them, it is also my job to instill in them the confidence and courage needed to push by those fears.
So since we have been able to take the doorknob covers off, give them whole grapes to eat, and let them traverse a flight of stairs on their own that is exactly what I have done. When fear has crept in, I have acknowledged it and simply reminded them, “it’s ok, you can do this”. Simple words but spoken with the reassurance they occasionally need to hear. I’m not called in to ward off thunder and lightning as much anymore and every day they walk with more and more confidence. My girls are learning the world can be a scary place but that doesn’t mean their fear has to keep them from moving forward or not getting out on to the floor to play the game.
“Dad, should I be scared?”
“No Em. It’s ok, you can do this. It’s just a game kiddo.”
She played great that night. If she was scared, you would have never known it. I guess she just needed to hear it was going to be ok?