Who’s afraid of the big back yard?

Is this the face that fears the back yard?

Last week, we hosted Silas’ preschool (about which I will post more soon, I promise!). One activity I proposed was going on a  “leaf hunt” with a flyer that came in Silas’ High Five magazine. It was okay in the front yard. Silas wasn’t super excited to go out, but he warmed up to it. He and his friends fed the chickens and ducks and then started hunting for leaves. I noticed that the tulip poplar was on the list. “We have a tulip poplar in the back yard!” I said. Silas started fussing that he did not want to go in the back yard. The other kids were already on their way, though, so I ended up carrying him (with Petra on my back. The Ergo is the Best. Baby. Gear. Ever.). He was hysterical.

The other kids saw his sandbox and wanted to play in it. That’s when I noticed the leaves in the sandbox. He hadn’t played in the back yard since his birthday party, over a month ago. He’s been outside, but only in the front yard or to go for a walk. None of the hours of solo play he used to get in the back yard. After the other kids left, I asked him if he was upset about the Monkey King, because the MK first appeared in the back yard, behind the aspen tree. He tearfully said yes, that was the problem. We talked about how the MK was sad that he had made Silas sad, and he wouldn’t come back. We talked about how the MK was really Grandpa (which he understood)–so the MK couldn’t come if we didn’t see Grandpa’s car. Also, I helped Grandpa dress up as the MK, and I promised I would not do it again. Oh, and we remember that there were things about the MK that were wonderful and funny, like when he did cartwheels or helped us get the cake that Daddy and Uncle Peter absconded with. He is still, in fact, obsessed with the MK in a positive way–he insists on reading his book about the MK a dozen times each day and still wants to be the MK for Halloween. But none of that helped. His feeling about the back yard was seriously, total terror.

We talked about times when we were afraid (“Did you know,” I told him, “I was sooooo afraid to become a mama. And I’m so glad I did!” Waaaay over his head. Can’t believe I tried it). We watched a Veggie Tales show about where God is when one is scared, adapted their “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man” song (so now it’s “bigger than the MK”), and have been repeating the memory verse from it (“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”–Isaiah 41:10) several times a day. I prayed with him about it, and he has asked me to do this a few more times. I don’t believe in using religion as a middle class tool to make children behave, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting that one turn to God in times of crisis.

I even wrote to his godparents, asking for their prayers (and also advice, as they have a very imaginative daughter and have, I’m sure, been through this sort of thing). It felt dumb, frankly, asking them to pray about this. I wrote that this “is not a Big Thing, but it is a Big Thing to Silas.”

That verse from Isaiah keeps rolling around in my head. We have had a scary and weird several (seven? eight?) months. It’s been rough, frankly, for at least a year. I haven’t written much about it because I don’t want to be a whiner, and also because I don’t have much more to say. I pray for guidance, for something to break into the new thing that is our Next Big Thing, but I do it with a bit of embarrassment. The only thing we lack is stability. I’m making decent money on a number of contract projects, so our needs are definitely met (for now). There are so many people, even within a few miles of my comfortable and warm home, who are worse off, that I feel stupid asking God to help me out. Never mind the scale of the world AIDS crisis and the billion or so people without clean drinking water. Who am I to pray for my little need to feel stable?

I thought of this, as I wrote to Silas’ godparents. Being a parent is teaching me every hour what it means to say that God is like a parent. I can take very seriously Silas’ concerns–even if I know they are not Big Problems in the grand scheme of things–because they are Big Problems to him, and I love him with all my heart. And so maybe I think God can hear my stupid First-World-Problem prayers in this way, acknowledging that they matter deeply, and also knowing that they are tiny in the full scale of everyone’s problems.

As for Silas, we got him to come play in the back yard yesterday. We built a fire and got out the marshmallows. My friend Pam once said that she respected Mama JJ for being honest about the times when she has to bribe her kids with candy. She’s not the only one who sometimes resorts to these tactics…

Shovels are the best!

He ended up having a great time. He and Petra played together in the sandbox and a leaf pile (Leaves! Autumn! Petra hated the leaf pile, actually…). Silas rediscovered toys he hasn’t played with in a while (a month, I guess) because they were in the sandbox, in the Scary Back Yard. We made sandwiches and cooked them on the coals so they were nice and melty. Everyone had a great time.

I won’t say that the problem is completely solved. Today, I had to seriously pester Silas into coming outside with me, and he only agreed when JC offered him some kitchen scraps to take to the chickens, and I agreed to hold his hand. But once we were out, he stayed out there for over an hour, on a chilly day. Maybe something is beginning to thaw.


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  1. […] him and trying to calm his terror. As far as writing without pictures, in this case, there’s not much to say. He’s scared. We acknowledge his fears as real. We hope they will end […]

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