No seatbelts

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Photo courtesy of Colleen Montanino

Recently I was on the train and a mom with two young children boarded and it seemed this was their first train ride. “There are no seatbelts!”, the girl exclaimed. “That’s OK,” said the mother. “We don’t need them on the train.” “But what if we stopped short?”, the girl countered. “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll be OK,” the mother assured her.

Obviously the child had been raised in a culture where moving vehicles always required seatbelts and she showed some distress that the comforting reassurance of a seatbelt was missing.

I suspect that for some children, going to a new grade in the new school year can feel a little like traveling without a seatbelt. Third grade became predictable. Teachers, classmates, the rhythm of classes, the expectation of homework, etc. were familiar and somewhat manageable and safe. But fourth grade??? What new directions would be opened ahead? The “riding without a seatbelt” feeling is magnified even more when there is a move to a new school building. Middle school? Adventurous for some, discomforting for others. High school? By that point the parents too feel as if life is hurtling along without a seatbelt.

Since I’m presuming most, if not all, my readers successfully negotiated the pitfalls and joys of the fourth grade, we know that the momentary discomfort of moving up to a new grade or school is survivable and the girl on the train was soon fighting her brother for the window seat and was calling out all that she saw through the window. Nonetheless this is the week to be particularly sensitive to anxieties — whether they be the interior anxieties of parents as they see their children grow up before their eyes or the uneasiness of the child as they realize that the next grade is going to have different challenges.

The girl on the train could get past her worries because of her reassuring mother and the same is true for children with school anxieties. The parents, older siblings, and grandparents can help them through the start of a new year by listening and assuring them that they’ll be ok. It’s helpful to have routines that are constant in other aspects of their lives during this time of transition.

Perhaps this is a good place for me to extols the virtues of weekly participation in a prayerful community. Regardless of a family’s faith background, regularly year-round involvement in worship is so helpful in grounding both children and parents in a caring community in which they receive blessings, inspiration, comfort and hope. Since our lives filled with so many transitions, the weekly time to gather as a family in the church, synagogue or mosque gives balance and guidance through times of change. A new school, the death of a pet or a relative, a new home, a new baby, a new job, a change in health, changing a sports team, etc. all can cause anxiety. The time for prayer gets us open to God’s care for us during these times. Praying together is like the “seatbelt” that helps us feel secure when the train of life carries us off to the next station. If it’s been a while I invite you try it again this coming weekend at a place of worship near you.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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