When I was seven years old, a particularly fierce thunderstorm swept through town one night – one of those southern summer storms that shakes the walls of the house and the nerves of its occupants – especially the little ones.
Sensing my palpable fear, my dad quietly took my hand and asked me to come watch the storm with him.
I swallowed my trepidation and accompanied him to the sun porch on the side of our house that had floor to ceiling windows.
As the storm put on a magnificent display, I sat on my father’s lap and listened to him quietly talk about calculating the distance of the storm by counting the seconds between thunder and lightning, why light travels faster than sound and the origins of electrical pulses in the sky.
Every time I jumped at the sound of a thunder clap, he gently put his hand on my forearm and immediately my heart rate slowed down. When the storm finally ebbed, I realized that I was completely relaxed.
In the 30 years that followed, there were myriad moments when my father both literally and metaphorically put his hand on my the top of my arm to signify many things.
To slow my anxiously beating heart.
To reassure me when I doubted myself.
To indicate that I could make a point without being harsh or derogatory.
To stop me so I could catch my breath when I was perilously close to flying through a moment instead of living it.
To tell me he was proud of me.
To remind me that he loved me.
That is what I miss the most since he died – that feeling of his hand on my forearm.
And that is what I remember when my children come to me – come at me – with their fears, their anxiety, their panic, their anger.
So I take it all. Because I know it is because they trust me with the feelings they can't explain.
I remember that the greatest gift we can give our children is to be the hand on their forearm – the peace in the turmoil – the calm in the storm – the love that is given without condition.
When it is easy, but more importantly when it is hard.
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