I should have seen it coming. Like dark clouds rolling in, the signs should have been clear as day. Smoldering glares and bursts of attitude all night long; two long days of barely seeing us, and the telltale beginnings of a cold. Like when dangerous weather systems collide, the storm that was brewing was inevitable. When I laid down the law and said “no” to one more book, the skies opened up.
A slow and steady rain at first: “But I’ve never read this book.” Persistent, but manageable: “Will Dad read it to me?” With each gentle but unwavering “no,” his panic rose, and the tempest began to increase in force and intensity. Angry words and accusations of unfairness were hurled about in the haphazard way of a preschooler. Arms and legs began to flail. A deluge of furious tears gushed down his now-reddened face.
I considered my options — backing down, raging back, running for dry ground to escape the turbulence. That last one was tempting. Such storms can wear you down, can pull you into them. But somehow I stayed with him, steadfast in my position but with a heart open to holding his pain.
“I love you so much,” I whispered, squeezing him tightly. He was tiring now. The tantrum was becoming effortful, lacking its earlier passion. He was trying, moments of quiet intercepted with short bursts of emotion, but it was clear the worst had passed.
Several minutes after the last of his tears had dried up, he pulled my arm close to his body and kissed it. A gesture that seemed far too mature for his four years. A gesture that seemed all at once to say “I’m sorry” and “thank you.” Thank you for staying, for weathering this storm with me. And as sleep overcame him and I felt his heart rate return to normal, I realized I had been conceptualizing the whole thing wrong. I had imagined that he was the storm. But of course, he was not. Those swirling, bewildering, out-of-control emotions were the storm, and he was just as caught up in it, indeed more so, than I was.
In staying, we show our children so much. We show them that overwhelming storms of emotions can be weathered. That in life there will be pain and disappointment and sorrow, but that we can walk through it together and come out on the other side. We teach them that even when they show the worst of themselves, the people who love them will stay, will sit beside them and hold them while they rage. That though the circumstances that have brought about the storm might be unchangeable, we will always be there for them.