I remember when I was married, my step-daughter (she was four at the time) came running in from the backyard in complete hysteria. She was screaming and hollering and jumping around like a frantic lunatic.
I had no idea what was wrong with her. Her eyes told me there was something seriously amiss, but her panic was doing a great job of rendering her unable to speak.
I kept asking her to calm down and tell me what was wrong, and as if some demon didn’t want her to respond, she would explode in untranslatable hysteria every time I did.
I reached out to touch her, now very concerned myself. I’d never seen a child (or anyone) act that way. Before I could touch her, she jumped back. Then she jumped forward. Then she jumped to the side.
“I need to know what’s wrong or I won’t know what to do to help you,” I said, trying to keep my cool.
After what seemed forever, she suddenly froze and looked at me, her eyes bulging red, her cheeks stained with tears. Her little arms were above her. And even though frozen in place, she continued to cry.
“It’s… in… my… shirt!” she wheezed between sobs.
Without giving myself time to think about what it could be, I lunged forward and pulled her shirt off of her as quickly as I could.
A large wasp found its way out of it and flew toward a closed window. My step-daughter lost it once more. She cried and cried, covered front and back in large red dots where the wasp had done its damage over and over and over again. I caught and killed the wasp, administered first aid, and got her calmed down with a bowl of ice cream and a Disney movie.
I’ve thought about that moment from time to time since then. Mostly when I think of kids and all the different kinds of “wasps” that tend to get stuck in their shirts.
Fighting. Divorce. Bullying. Unkind words. Stupid things we as parents do to our kids sometimes. Every little thing that bites and stings them below that surface layer as they frantically scream in their own fragile ways that they’re being hurt and they need us to understand so that we can help them.
Problems we can’t see at first glance. Recurring pain that we don’t notice. Instead we scratch our heads and wonder why our kids are acting out. We wonder why they’re having behavioral problems. We wonder what’s making them sad or discouraged. Why their grades are failing. Why they are pretending to be sick. Why they are belligerent. Why they are bullying others. We assume it could be any of a number of different reasons, and we rarely realize what the real causes are.
So often we don’t see the wasp under the shirt until the damage has already been done.
There are so many ups and downs in parenting, I would bet that every parent has done it. Every parent has failed to see the wasp in their own kids’ shirt. Every parent has watched their kid spiral more out of control and had no idea what to do about it, whether it’s over an afternoon or over much larger time spans.
And, every kid eventually stops the pandemonium long enough to fill us in. If we listen close enough. If we watch. They give us the subtle clues that let us jump into action and fix the problems. They give us a chance to kill the wasp and administer first aid for whatever wounds they’ve received.
My step-daughter was mad at me. At first. She didn’t understand why I didn’t know what to do. She didn’t understand why I would stand there and let the wasp attack her like that. And, in the end she was finally able to understand. After some TLC she got it, and she moved past it.
Our kids are no different. In the end it doesn’t matter that there was a wasp. It matters that now there’s not. It matters that mom or dad took care of it. It matters that they finally figured it out and made it possible for their kids to heal.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
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