I used to be terrified of thunderstorms. So terrified, in fact, that well into my early thirties, I would go sleep in the hallway, close all the doors leading to the hall so I couldn’t see any lightning through any windows, pull a blanket over my head and try to block it out. Then I became a mom. And I realized if I wanted my daughter to grow up free of the fear that I had crippled me my whole life I couldn’t let her see how much the storms scared me.
The summer she was born was a humid stormy one and I would sit in the rocking chair clutching that baby for dear life while thunderstorm after thunderstorm raged outside my windows. To an observer it may have looked as though I was holding her to keep her safe and soothe her but in actuality, holding her gave me a focus and resulted in a clarity I had never thought possible during the storms that scared me so.
I used to comfort my baby during storms
As she grew, I was able to remain calm through storms because I knew I had to stay calm for her sake. I became an expert on thunderstorms, teaching her how to count seconds between the boom and the flash, reminding her of all the ways we were safe and that as long as I was around I wouldn’t let the thunder get her. I also taught her to respect the power of the storm. We would take a walk or a drive after a particularly strong one and I would point out fallen limbs or toppled trees and say “see, storm damage.”
By the time she was a teenager I realized something had happened. All this time spent comforting her, educating her and reassuring her had worked on me as well. I wasn’t afraid of the storms anymore. By comforting my child, I had comforted myself.
Coronavirus is a terrible “storm”
There’s a storm raging now in the form of a worldwide health crisis that has had the unprecedented effect of closing hundreds of colleges and universities – sending students home to continue their studies online – among them my daughter. The same baby I held through the thunderstorms, now a 20-year old college junior, I must help steer through the biggest storm we’ve ever faced together.
As we prepare to move her home two months earlier than expected, I am steeling myself for a chaotic scene with none of the fun of move-in day, and none of the fond farewells of move out day. This isn’t how her junior year was supposed to end. It was supposed to end with spring days on the quad with her friends, outdoor concerts, and finals and performances, and turning 21with all her best friends surrounding her. It was supposed to end with a family trip to celebrate her birthday.
None of that is happening. The remnants and reminders of those plans litter our life right now the same way the downed tree limbs litter our roads after a bad storm. We step over them gingerly for fear of hurting ourselves as we climb through the debris.
But just as I used to do after a big storm, I will point to the things that fell and crashed and remind my daughter that while storm damage can be overwhelming and daunting, while it can get in our way and necessitate some detours, eventually it gets cleaned up. Eventually the lights come back on. Eventually sunshine breaks through the storm clouds.
The storm we face right now is scary and feels as dark and black as the strongest thunderstorm in the dark of night. But when we feel scared, when we feel lost, I’ll hold her close just as I did when she was little, and I’ll remind her that as long as we are together, we can weather anything.
That no storm lasts forever, and together we will watch for the first rays of sunshine to guide our way.
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college junior. Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.