Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Prayer

Today I was reminded that it is sometimes scary to be a child.

It was an unseasonably warm day in Seattle. It was warm enough that I sanctioned the donning of swimsuits, and even turned on the little sprinkler in our postage-stamp-sized back yard, through which the girls joyfully frolicked, choreographing their own dance that cried out, "O, Glorious Summer, Quickly Come!" Eli napped peacefully inside, and I sat on the deck, attempting to read a book. Every other sentence, Eleanor peppered me with some remark, most of which demanded some sort of response beyond a distracted "uh-huh." Um, I'm trying to read, you know... please just quietly share your summer-time exuberance with your sister...

Eleanor turned the little plastic slide into a water slide with the assitance of the trusty garden hose, in complete and flagrant breach of the safety warnings, which stated that one should never, ever use water on this slide. But really, she is so oversized now compared to the toddler slide that I felt there was no danger. Though I did consider for a brief moment how stupid I'd sound explaining my rationale to the social worker at the ER: "Yes, it's true that I'm an (gulp) attorney... Yes, I did read the warnings on the label. Yes, I ignored the warnings in favor of a little time to read a book in peace!"

At one point, Eleanor skidded to a stop, half-way down the slide because-- BAM!-- an important question landed in her brain like a burning-hot meteor from outer space: "Mama, will our house ever burn down?"

"Well, I don't really know the future, sweetie," I replied, "but probably our house won't burn down because we try really hard to keep it safe here. But would you feel better if we talk about a fire-escape plan this Saturday?" (For some reason, this seems like a weekend activity). She said, "Yes." I told her that I remember when I was little, I worried a lot about my family's house burning down.

I didn't mention that I actually still worry quite a bit about it, sometimes laying in bed when I'm trying to get to sleep, mentally rehearsing exactly how I'll collect all three of my children and get them out if there is a middle-of-the-night fire. (Hmm, if I tuck my PJ top tightly into my underwear I can stuff Eli down my shirt; Eleanor can hold onto my neck in the front and help keep Eli in, then Sylvia can go piggy-back...) Nevermind the fact that I haven't yet actually ordered the ladders that will allow us to safely descend from the second floor to the sidewalk below. Evidently I plan to shout the URL for the ladder sales' webpage and hope that the fire surrenders knowing the ladders are soon on their way.

My nightly childhood prayer always included a plea for protection against fire. The embers of my fire-fear were fanned by a terrifying episode of Little House on the Prairie in which Mrs. Garvey and Mary's baby boy were trapped on the second floor of the Blind School during a fire, and died a terrible death amid the ferocious flames. (The episode, according to Wikipedia, is called May We Make Them Proud). Who wrote this stuff, anyway? Didn't they think of the innocent little girls who would henceforth be scared out of a good night's sleep?

I habitually said other prayers as a child: some trivial; some monumental. Once I saw a van run over a little child. The little girl-- she couldn't have been more than 3 years old-- darted out into the street before her mother could grab her hand. In one, slow-motion, underwater, dream-sequence moment, a joyful 4th of July at the park was transformed into a nightmare as the girl slid underneath the tires of an oncoming van. My sister and I were frozen in time: our mouths were agape and our feet quick-dried in concrete as we watched the scene unfold. Mama rushed into the road, where the little girl's in-shock mother was shaking the unconscience girl, trying in vain to reverse time and make her child whole in the only way she knew how. My Mama tried to tell the mother, "stop shaking her; this will make it worse," but Mama didn't speak Spanish and the mother didn't speak English. My Dad ran to call an ambulance, and my sister and I stood still, as if someone had pushed paused via invisible remote control. The scene is seared into my brain as if by hot-iron branding. I prayed for that little girl throughout most of my childhood. To this day, I don't know if she made it.

As a spiritual discipline, prayer is one of the most mysterious. We never know for certain whether our prayers do any good to those for whom we pray. But I can attest to the change that takes place in the one doing the praying. It is, for example, very difficult to be angry about a traffic jam when you are offering up a prayer for those involved in the accident. Yesterday traffic rolled to a stand-still as the kids and I headed to our weekly lunch-date with Tobin. As we rounded a curve, I peered at the shoulder and saw the shattered remains of what was once a bright yellow motorcycle. I said, "Girls, let's say a little prayer for the person who crashed that motorcycle." Eleanor inquired, as if questioning my prayer triage decision, "Mama, what about that motorcycle? We should ask God to fix that motorcycle too, shouldn't we?" Hmm, I guess so...since it was such a pretty yellow and all...

In my line of work, I read a lot of files that contain horrific stories of abused children. An infant whose head is permanently misshapen because he spent so much time being ignored in his carseat. A 2 year old whose mother's boyfriend routinely bit him in the face as punishment. A mother so strung out on drugs that she didn't notice her 3 and 5 year old starting fires in the kitchen. Reading these stories, I feel helpless. I feel anger, despair, hopelessness. I stop working for a moment, and pray that this child, and this child, and this child will know what it is to be loved.

Today Eleanor's question told me that she's entered an age of awareness: a knowledge that we don't control the world, and that sometimes bad things will happen.

And so, I offer this prayer:

For children losing their innocence with the dawning of the awareness of suffering.

For children who have nowhere to turn when they feel afraid.

For children whose daily lives are scarier than our worst nightmares.

God, in your mercy, hear this prayer.


Seattle Mamacita said...

i love eleanor's questions.. sadly, such raw curiousity becomes repressed as we get older. she is such a thoughtful child...this post touches on so many memories for me. I saved our home from burning down when my father decided to make his first batch of fried chicken..this smart little sixth grader remembered you dump flour on a grease fire not water and ever since I still think about those billowing kitchen curtains swallowing the house whole...

bgirl said...

worth the wait. this post resonates as i've recently been intrigued by the new emergence of fear in ryder, or rather, as you put it, his awareness about things out of our control. still scary for us as adults. your prayer reminds me of the importance of slowing down to gain perspective and to have gratitude for the things and people, that make us feel safe.

Oh, The Joys said...

Amen, amen.

alicia said...

"For wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).

I join you in lifting our prayers for the our children and those around the world; for safety and protection; for a few more days of innocence, and for the love of Christ when life lets them down.

kjw said...

The effective fervent (heartfelt, directing its intensity toward His will) prayer of a righteous man (mother) avails much (makes tremendous power available)!
James 5:16

Heartfelt prayers make God's power available here on Earth. What an honor and responsibility.

Loved it, Allson. Great job, as usual.

slouching mom said...

Evidently I plan to shout the URL for the ladder sales' webpage and hope that the fire surrenders knowing the ladders are soon on their way.

This made me laugh. I understand this post so well, as someone who has struggled with diffuse anxiety and whose second son struggles similarly.

That Little House on the Prairie episode gave me nightmares.

Summer said...

Don't forget that Tobin can help you carry the kids out, you don't have to depend on your underpants to hold little Eli in!