Sunday, August 19, 2012

If a tree falls and a toddler hears it…

With several cracks and a boom, the old oak tree shattered the silence of the evening, losing its lifelong battle with gravity.  At the first crack, we glanced around the patio table at each other.  At the second crack, we all turned to look into the woods.  When the whole tree started to come down, we jumped up from the table, trying to decide whether we were about to become acorn cobbler.

Rather than falling toward us, though, the tree folded in on itself, imploding like a well-executed building demolition.  Our friends Julie and Sergey, who might have since decided that they’d prefer to dine in places less prone to arboreal ambush, looked at each other and said, “Whoa.”

Evan, our three-year-old, was inconsolable until we explained, in a move we have since come to deeply regret, that the tree had been weakened by the heavy storm that blew through a few days prior.  This information, combined with a recent power outage and an afternoon thunderstorm at daycare that sent all the kids scurrying inside, has swirled into a perfect storm of childhood fears.

“Go give Grammy and Grandpa a hug,” I said to Evan as I plunked him down in their driveway last weekend.  Usually, he runs down the walkway to wrap his arms around their legs.

“Is it gonna thunder?” Evan shrieked, hands over his ears, pressing his face into my shorts.

“No, Evan, it’s beautiful outside,” I said.

“Is it gonna rain?  Is lightning gonna come?” he cried.

The rest of the weekend, if you dragged him outside, he’d put his hands over his ears and cry.  The ability to ride out beautiful weekend days on the couch will serve him well as he enters his prime video-game-playing years, but as the mountain of angry birds that he’s shot backwards off the screen will attest, he’s not there yet.

Evan is coming to grips with the idea that the world is full of things that even his parents can’t control, which should have been evident after the Eagles’ 2011 season.      

“Tomorrow, we can go to the playground,” I said, hoping that the lure of the slide would tempt him outdoors again.

“NOOO!  I don’t wanna go!” he screamed, eyes wide with terror.

The stormy weather this summer has probably caused many parents to struggle with their kids’ irrational fears of the outdoors, so just in case other families can benefit from our experience, here’s a little script I prepared to help little ones understand the world around them.

“Dear child: I, your parent or legal guardian, have everything under control, and you are perfectly safe.  Thunder can’t hurt you.  It’s just nature’s way of letting you know that random bolts of electricity are shooting from the sky, occasionally destroying things and/or setting them on fire.  If you just flee inside, you should be okay, as long as a tree doesn’t fall and crush your house.  Oh, and watch out for hornets.”  

This isn’t exactly the speech I gave to Evan, but as he kept probing to find out more, I found it tougher to dodge the fact that sometimes, the world’s just not the friendliest place.  We’ve been steadily working on setting his mind at ease, though, helping him to see that most of the time, nature is just begging him to come outside for a frolic.

It is slow going.  It’s difficult to reason with a person who thinks that Captain America is his uncle.

This morning, though, for the first time in several days, Evan ventured out to the car without putting his hands over his ears or mentioning the weather.  The mental storm damage appears to have been temporary.  Which is good, because someday, when he discovers girls, he’ll have all the terror he can handle.

You can make acorn cobbler with Mike Todd at


  1. Just let me know when it's safe to go out,okay? I'll be in the house repeating "the trees are our friends, the trees are our friends . . ."

    1. There's absolutely nothing to worry about. The trees ARE our friends, until they land on us.