“I’m still here.”
This is my thought, as I sit in my car on the shoulder of the freeway, watching the cars roll past me.
I’m thinking about my kids. They have no idea about the close call I just had. I rarely remember, stepping out my door without them, how quickly life can change.
I feel myself trembling, my heart beating in my ears, reflexes in hyperdrive.
Piecing it together.
I was out running errands, driving on the freeway near Burlingame when it happened. A hail storm came out of the blue, obscuring my visibility out the front windshield.
I saw brake lights in front of me and hit my own brakes. But when I did this, instead of stopping, the car actually sped up.
Was I pressing the wrong pedal? Did I somehow have my foot on the gas? I felt with my foot. No, it was definitely the brake I was pushing. But the brake did nothing, and I was a split second away from impact.
I just kept thinking about my kids. Would I get home to them? They didn’t know what had happened, what was still happening to me.
But even as I panicked, something else was happening. I felt the steering wheel turning under my hands. Felt the car responding. Felt myself gliding over to the shoulder, missing the car in front of me by mere inches, slowing to where I now sat.
In the rear view mirror, I saw a white sedan lose control, careening across four lanes of traffic, coming to rest perpendicular to the oncoming cars.
That’s when I understood. It wasn’t that my brakes had gone out. We’d all been sliding on ice, and many cars had lost control.
I also understood the physical reason why I’d been able to regain control of the car. It was because, in my confusion, I kept taking my foot off the brake, then pushing it down again, thus “pumping the brake” which remembered from some long ago drivers’ test is exactly what they tell you to do if you ever lose control of a car.
It was a powerful thing to experience – how somehow, something stepped in and helped my body do that. Even as my small self felt frantic, something skilled and spacious in me took over, calmly maneuvering us to safety.
This story exemplifies a truth that I notice so much in my life – our resources are greater than we know.
I experience it as a music teacher and choral leader, in helping people get in touch with the music in themselves. I also experience it in my work as a spiritual counselor, helping mamas heal and strengthen our connection to inner guidance.
Our resources are always stronger than we know.
So I want to talk about how all this relates to parenting.
When I got home from my near-miss-close-call kind of a moment, I still felt deeply shaken. And transitioning right back into full on caregiving for my two kids, seven and ten, I didn’t have the luxury of time to process.
So I want to talk about this now – about how we hold these types of moments – when something happens out of the blue that really rocks the boat of our moment to moment functioning.
Mr. Rogers said, and he was so right – kids need to know that they are safe in the world. This is one of the most important things for us as parents to reinforce.
Meanwhile, as adults, we know the world doesn’t always feel safe. We read about wars, extreme weather, mass shootings. It’s not rare that we get those startling reminders of how life can change in an instant.
And… In those moments when something rocks you, and especially as a primary caregiver, chances are you’re still parenting.
How to handle those moments?
Naturally, with very young children, we can make the choice to shelter them from a lot of what we know they’re not ready to see or know about yet.
But once our kids get older, (mine are seven and ten), and especially once they’re in school, taking in the influences of a much wider world, and without us standing in between them at that world, parenting becomes less about sheltering them, and more about equipping them.
What tools will they need in order to navigate the different life situations and people they encounter?
Here again, a sense of safety is important. And here’s the interesting thing. Whether your kids are two, seven or ten, this much true – when it comes to showing our kids that they’re safe in the world, one of the most important ways that we can teach them is through our own example.
Because of this, effective, compassionate parenting isn’t just about how we show up for our kids.
It’s also about how we show up for ourselves.
Because when you think about it, the former actually depends on the latter.
When it comes to the tough stuff, before we consider “how can I help my kids feel safe around it,” we’ve got to start here – what do I need to do to help restore my own sense of safety? How can I feel more resourced here?”
Whenever you want to make that mental shift, here’s something that can help. It’s another thing Mr. Rogers said. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
It’s true in a large scale crisis, but here’s the funny thing. When you think about it, it’s true in those little life moments, too, and even when it’s just you!
Why? Because the “helpers” aren’t just outside us.
There are also the helpers within.
So when I talked to my kids about what had happened, here’s what I focused on – I focused on that inner helper.
“Isn’t it amazing,” I said, “how even in a scary moment like that, there was still so much there to support me? There I was, feeling pretty shaken up as I slid on the icy road, but even so, a wise, calm part of myself just knew exactly what to do, and helped keep me safe.
I love knowing that we each have this wise part of ourselves that can jump in and save the day when we need it.
Isn’t it nice to know that about life?”
I’m telling my kids some kind of a teaching story, and I can end it with, “isn’t it nice to know that about life?” I feel like I’m on the right track.
Not because life isn’t hard.
Not because life is fair.
Not because tragedies don’t happen.
It feels like the right track because if there’s one thing I want my kids to know, it’s this.
Wherever we struggle, whatever we go through, there lives, within each of us, a special part of us that can help guide us, soothe us, and show the way.
If I have one wish for my kids, and for my parenting, it’s this. I want to help my kids find that wise part of themselves and trust it.
I want them to grow up practiced in tuning into it, appreciating it, knowing where it’s active. Actively cultivating it.
It’s taken me a lifetime – so much excavation – so much inner work – to discover this in myself, and learn to trust it as deeply as I do. If I can, I’d like to help ease that process for my kids.
I believe that through modeling and the teaching of processes for self connection and self regulation, we can help them trust it from the start.
And what about you?
Have you ever had an experience that showed you you were more resourced than you knew? What was that experience for you?
I always love hearing from you!