Sixty kindergartners and I sat huddled in the cafeteria. Rain slapped against the windows and the roar of falling water came on strong. The rumble alone brought a hush to this bundled little pack of five year-olds.
Rico, the roundest five year-old I had ever met, stood with face pressed against the room’s big window. He held both dimpled hands over his heart as he watched rain sheet down along walls and pool on the deck outside. Beyond, water swept across the playground, carrying along red balls, jackets, and a couple of lost shoes.
I stood beside him, witnessing a mood shift as his world transformed to a wet, gray, and unfamiliar place. He turned his round face toward mine and blinked.
“Rico, what’s the matter?”
“Principal, what if the rain never stops?”
I turned the question back to him.
“What do you think might happen?”
He stared into the downpour and began a string of wide-eyed ruminations. Will it ever stop? Will the playground sink? Can fish swim on land? If we all float away, where do we go? Would I have to swim to find my mom?”
Might this little boy drown in the flood of his own thoughts? I took his small hand in mine and said, “Look! I think it’s stopping now!” And in truth, the downpour had slowed. “Maybe we can even go outside in a minute. We should be OK. ”
The crease between his eyebrows eased and meanwhile, dozens of children had been holding a rain vigil along with Rico and me. Unlike my little buddy, however, their ‘Oooo’s’ and ‘aahhhs’ spoke of wonder.
But, Rico was not convinced of anything wonderful. I declared that we needed to investigate our surroundings. I appointed six students, my cloud patrol, to venture out onto the playground and bring back a full report.
As if on queue, rain paused. Rico and I watched as our patrol exited and disappeared around the bend. In moments, they returned, red cheeked, excited, and giving the thumbs up.
Time to venture forth! I had kids lined up and out in a minute. Rico and I remained. His eyes welled and he took my hand again. “Let’s try. I won’t let you go,” I said. He trembled, but I also sensed curiosity. We stepped through the door, startled by two gulls flying low. Cumulus clouds tumbled. Wind bent trees along the back fence. Puddles shimmered everywhere.
“Look!” he called as he pointed at a the red ball that water had carried across the yard. “The ball is OK!” He went to retrieve it and then took off. His best friend, Hannah caught up with him. Soon they screeched through puddles like pros.
Fear can, at its best, shape stepping stones toward freedom. Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” In this way you can go from shrinking small to standing tall.
Our expedition would have to be brief. A knot of dark clouds closed in. “Rain coming!” I called. And, to my delight, all came thundering in. All but one. Rico, my newest explorer, giggled and waved, way too busy under a sudden downpour to worry about little things like clouds, storms, or floods. Carried by rain itself, wet liberation washed off the smudge of doubt and made this boy’s world bigger by half. Could this be a key – that we find our way one storm at a time?