On Being...Scared

This afternoon we read Garmann's Summer because it is that time of year. Our school year is fast coming to a close. In the book, Garmann's summer is almost over. Garmann is six-years-old and when summer ends, he will go to school for the first time. He is scared. 

We are all scared of something and Garmann wonders about this. He asks each member of his family what they are scared of. One of the tiny, ancient aunts who visit him each summer is scared of the snow. Why would you be scared of snow wonders Garmann and the children listening to the story? Snow and all its promises of cold, slipperiness are dangerous for a tiny, ancient aunt encumbered with a walker. The children listening to the story can't imagine being scared of snow. The other tiny aunt is afraid of dying. She imagines a wagon that will carry her into the starry sky though. 

The ancient aunts have all the time in the world and no time to lose. Garmann's summer is coming to a close. The next thing is coming. The unknown thing. He is scared about starting school. Later, one of the children told me that he is scared of only two things, "I am scared of ghosts and alligators. Not school, no, just ghosts and alligators."

We are all scared of something. Being scared is a real part of our lives -- snow, dying, ghosts, alligators, and going to school. All the people in Garmann's family are scared of something different -- small or big things, things that may happen, or things that will most certainly happen. I show the children that Garmann does go to school. Garmann's school play yard is featured in the third book. It is in our nature to say, "Oh look, he is having fun at school." But the thing is, he isn't having fun at school. Being scared of school is quite reasonable and not having fun at school is also a possibility. But in that third book, he also finds his way out of being scared. We just have to wait and watch for it to happen. We have to sit with his fear and hold it a minute just as we do our own fears. Then we can find wagons to carry us out to our very own starry skies.

The rest of the afternoon showed this to be true. The children had to hold yet another funeral. We found a dead shrew at the bottom of the steps with two perfect, but almost invisible puncture wounds in its little neck. Our burial experts fashioned a bed from tissues including a mattress and pillow with a little blanket folded and tucked just under its chin. Another one of the children instructed us to cross our hands, stand around the edges of the grave, and also to look down solemnly. He told us that he had been to two real-life funerals so he knew exactly what to do. I asked the class if the shrew had found a wagon to travel into the starry sky with and no one answered. We have buried, in short order, two baby birds and now this shrew. The children have officially recognized that we have a cemetery. 

  The children bury the shrew.

The children bury the shrew.

What once would have brought pause and fearfulness has now become shaped into tradition and observation of ceremony. Once the bowing of heads and sprinkling of dirt and marking the grave with the sign reading, "Shrew" were all done, off the children ran to mix and bake mud pies and stir up poison stews and travel in spaceships to far away galaxies. The only anxious moment was arriving at an agreement for the placement of the dogwood blossoms. Should they go in the grave or on top? On top.

But then things got really complicated. While the children played, the sky grew dark, and before we knew it a long, low growl of the thunder sounded and then another. I would have to take the children inside. The thunderstorm predicted for the evening was already here. One of the children frantically looked for the car he brought with him to school, "It's metal!" he yelled as he began to cry. He knew that there was something dangerous about metal and lightning mixed together. On any other day, he would have left it. He certainly had no idea where he left it even now. It was found but even as he began to catch his breath from being scared one of the other children began to cry as more thunder was followed by a flash of lightning. Here we are, in real life scared. Not all of us, just some, because just like the characters in the book, each of us is scared of something different. 

As we went inside the school, the children knew that we would have an "Everybody Story" which is something I tell to fill time. Actually that they knew this is kind of funny because I thought I was the only one who knew I was filling time with these stories. The children knew all along but because they are featured in these stories, love them. I have several stories, all unfinished. "Finish the sandworm story!" said one group while another wanted the rest of the Melisande story. But we couldn't get to any story really because the scariness of the thunderstorm was overwhelming for one of the children, "Did you shut the door?" he wailed, "Because the lighting could get inside!!!!!"

If anything could prove a story in a book to be true, the thunderstorm did that for us. Some of us were scared of the thunderstorm, others were not. Using the book as a guide, we can also see that simply acknowledging the fear and giving it room to breath would serve the scared child better than dismissing the fear with false reassurances. Try this on instead..."You are afraid. What information, tools, and materials will you need to build your wagon that will take you to the starry sky?" Or even better, "I will sit with you and this fear. Tell me more about it."