The air is thick with moisture and the distant mountain in my view is a grayish purple. The silence of the morning is so still that I can hear subtle little sounds, like the baby bird chirping quietly in its nest in the rafters of the porch. I can hear things in the distance I would never normally hear.
The light is flat. Somewhere the sun is nestled warmly inside a giant cloud, keeping the light from escaping.
Treetops gently sway to the mild breeze, like ballerinas rehearsing graceful moves on their toes.
I hear cries echoing in the distance, breaking up the gentle sounds of the morning. Coyotes, perhaps?
A Screaming Child
My ears perk up, my defense instincts kick in, and the adrenaline rushes to my heart. I’m suddenly hyper-aware, realizing the cry is that of a little girl. Though I cannot make out her words, her screams are deafening in the silent morning.
Should I call for help? Should I put on my shoes and run out into the distant woods to come to her rescue?
Three screams of desperation, and I make out “Daddy, help me! Daddy, help me!” She is screaming desperately, with all her might.
Tears well up in my eyes, I feel helpless, trying to make out the direction of the screams, but not knowing if I can get there in time, and what will I face. Surely a child is not alone in the woods in this early morning, just after sunrise.
Then, in the distance, a male voice is heard. “I’m coming! I’m coming, honey. I’ll be right there.” Relieved, I know I no longer need to be the rescuer. The screams stop. The silence returns. The mystery will never be resolved.
As I sit here I realize the moment has rattled me in so many ways, as tears continue to stream down my face.
Memories Flood My Heart
Memories of my own children at young ages flood into my heart, of moments they needed their daddy to come to their rescue. Though with triplets, those days were hard, it was wonderful to be the hero, to be needed.
Today those hero-seekers aren’t crying out for Dad’s or Mom’s help anymore. Instead, in their teenage years, they tend to be annoyed with us, relying on us for sustenance and coin, but little else. Though I used to be the knight in shining armor, now I’m just “Oh, Dad.”
The Speed of Parenting
Time travel really is possible; I’ve lived it now for 15 years as I watched little seeds grow into saplings and then young trees — in what seems like a flash. Though others warned me, no words can really prepare a parent for the speed at which our children grow ready to jump from the nest, hopefully prepared to fly.
Driver training will soon lead to drivers’ licenses, the first true freedom, and the beginning of our separation. Truly we are caretakers for but a brief period.
The prospect of life without our munchkins at home in just three years is both frightening and exhilarating. Life as an at-home parent ends while a whole new empty-nester chapter of life unfolds. In our case, we’ll see all three jump the nest at one time. No chance to try it once, then another a couple of years later, and then another. It will be cold turkey.
Looking Forward to the Empty Nest
I feel guilty for looking forward to days when driving them to school at 6:30 for band practice is replaced by awakening to go paint or to get to work early, or maybe even sleeping in. Yet my heart already aches knowing my little entertainers won’t be around to brighten each day.
Friends who have experienced this transition tell me it’s the hardest, yet the best time, seeing kids go out on their own. But of course parenting never ends. Thank God for small favors.
An Unexpected Gift
Hearing that child cry out hit me in an unusual way this morning, a way I wouldn’t have expected, a way that rocked my heart and made me wish I were more needed by my offspring. My hope is that, as uncool as I am today, maybe there is some double reverse psychology, and their hormonal convictions of my uncoolness are really hidden signs that Dad is needed still.
The little girl’s cries remind me that we all need someone to run to, someone to rescue us, to be there in our moment of need. Though our hardened shell of adulthood often does not allow those cries to be heard, they are there, somewhere under layers of self-protection.
Friends who have lost their parents tell me they would give anything for one hour more. We all need someone to run to, to rescue us, to reassure us, to let us know that everything will be OK.
A Lifetime Commitment
A parent’s role never really ends. My calls to my aging parents, now in their 90s, are still reassurance, even though sometimes we have reversed roles and their cries for a knight in shining armor have turned to us. Parent becomes child, yet still remains parent.
It’s an amazing phenomenon that parents raise us and prepare us for life, and eventually we become their caregivers in turn. My parents prepared me for that role, and my hope is that I am a thoughtful enough parent that my kids will one day be willing to play the role for me, and hear my cries for help in the forest when I’m feeling frightened and alone.
I realized this morning that we all have moments when we’re crying out for help, wanting someone to rescue us, to be there for us, to save us.
Seeing Through Misbehavior
Though people act out and misbehave in ways that make us want nothing to do with them, perhaps we need to understand that sometimes they just don’t know how to ask for help. Their arrogance or nastiness or negativity may be a hidden code that’s saying, “Be there for me, help me, pay attention to me, understand me, save me.”
Cowardly Hit and Run
Recently I ran into a critical person on social media — someone who has never met me, never attended one of my events, never gotten to know me, but who slammed me, berated me, challenged me, and was as nasty as it gets because of my success and their perception that I’m “raping the land” because I’m an “opportunist.”
It hurt badly, not so much because I knew this originated with someone I knew who had betrayed me, but because someone made assumptions when they did not know my heart and my passion to help people grow, improve, and find the creativity inside themselves. They don’t know that my life changed when I discovered painting and that my passion is to help others find what I found. They just assumed I’m all about the money.
Too often these things lead to Facebook duels where anything can be spoken by people who would never have the courage to say something face-to-face.
What if we were to look at such behavior differently and ask ourselves, “Is it a cry for help? Is it a cry to be understood? Is this anger and vitriol present because someone just wants us to see their side of the argument?” Then perhaps we could lay down our swords, listen, and find peace between us.
We all just want to be heard.
As a husband and a dad, it’s something I struggle with every day because I want to spout my own opinions before I’ve properly heard what’s being said. And, in typical male fashion, I want to solve the problems even when people don’t want solutions, they just want acknowledgement and someone to listen.
The little girl crying out in the woods lives inside each of us. The rescuing daddy also lies in each of us. All the roles we are given can be reversed. One minute we’re the crying child in need while another moment we’re the rescuing father or mother. It’s a complex world.
Training Future Behavior
Sometimes I fail to remember that the way I treat my children today will determine if they are there for me in the future. And the way I treat my parents is a model for how I’ve trained my kids to treat their parents.
It’s not an excuse to let bad behavior off the hook, but it is a reminder that we all need to be treated with respect. As my kids have grown from babies to toddlers to young adults, I’m reminded that they can handle more, and have to be treated differently in each phase. Like me, they want to be treated with respect and listened to. And it’s a reminder that the same is true in my time with my parents, who devoted their lives to making sure I turned out OK (it’s still too early to tell), and I need to be there for them more.
I’m reminded to see the other side. To listen for clues. To react less and to listen more.
We are all crying out for help at times, even when we don’t know it. A therapist I met with once helped me understand that sometimes when I clam up, don’t talk, and don’t share my feelings, it’s because I fear I’ll be hurt, and I fear that others won’t listen.
Today that child’s cry for help, echoing in the woods, is cemented into my brain, as a reminder that my primary goal is to be there to rescue, not be rescued, and that if I give to others as I want to receive, I’ll bring joy to them and rescue myself.
Why Now, Why Me?
I find it odd that as I stepped out onto the porch this morning, wondering what I was going to write, God placed that child there with a cry for help at the very moment I walked outside. A moment that lasted less than 30 seconds, and has never occurred before, the entire time I’ve been living here. And I have no idea why it struck me, why tears welled up in my eyes, and why I drew the conclusions that were laid upon my heart. But I’m happy it happened, because I needed a reminder to be a knight in shining armor for everyone in my life.
Today, as you enter your day, you will encounter others. Some will be gentle and loving, others may be angry or annoyed. Some may be downright nasty. We cannot control how they act, we can only control how we react. We can RE-act by reflecting their actions, or we can RE-act by changing the tone and the dynamic.
Perhaps today, and all week, if you too remember the crying child in need of rescue, you can ask yourself why someone is saying what they are saying. What do they really need? How can I react with love? How can I listen more? How can I be there as their knight in shining armor?
And I want you to know that I’m willing to listen. If you have a need, if you need someone to hear your voice and there is no one there who can do it, or who is listening, drop me a line. I will respond.
And thanks for listening and letting me be heard. It means a lot. It’s probably why I write these missives each Sunday. I just want to be heard.