Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Darkness, Light and Zebras

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Jan 17, 2014 8:12 AM

"No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities -- always see them, for they're always there." (Norman Vincent Peale)

When my daughter was in third grade, she began waking up every night, gasping for air. These episodes came out of nowhere, and they were terrifying -- for her and for us. Thanks to the expertise and persistence of her allergist, we finally diagnosed the problem, which was actually a combination of allergies, reflux and something called vocal cord dysfunction. Thanks to medication and specialized treatments with a speech therapist, we all were all eventually able to sleep through the night again. 

But between the onset of her symptoms and her eventual diagnosis and treatment, things were dark -- and not just because these episodes happened at night. Terrified that our daughter would stop breathing in the middle of the night, my husband and I took turns sleeping in her room, checking on her periodically throughout the night. In the absence of an explanation, we came up with dire scenarios. 

Unfortunately, parenting is often like that. When we don't know what's going on with our kids, we reach for explanations. Some make more sense than others, and often, we head -- unnecessarily -- down a dark and twisted path. When our kids are little, this happens mostly with physical symptoms, but as our children grow older and more private, it's easy to get sucked into a vortex of worry over something as simple as normal teenage moods. And when we raise our sights to see the possibilities, those possibilities are sometimes scarier than the symptoms themselves.

As a recovering worrier, I often go back to a piece of advice one of my doctors (who knows me well) gave me: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras." 

This silly little bit of wisdom always manages to help me put things into perspective. Much like its cliched predecessor ("if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck") it imposes practical logic onto impractical feelings, albeit in a lighthearted way. Logic doesn't usually put our stomachs in a knot, or inspire us to spend the night sleeping in our children's bedrooms to make sure they don't stop breathing. It's emotion that does that. Sure, there's a certain logic involved in keeping an eye on a sick child -- in being available to soothe nighttime fears -- but we're better able to soothe a child's fears when we aren't harboring our own.

Some of us are predisposed to see the glass as half-full, while others are wired to see it as half-empty. But either way, the half that does not contain liquid is just as likely to contain hope as despair. And when it comes to my child, I think I'd prefer to err on the side of hope. Informed hope, certainly -- checking out what can be checked out to help impose logic on emotions -- but hope nevertheless. 

Because, after all, how often do hoofbeats signify zebras?  

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