Turn to either of my kids quickly, and out of the blue ask them “What’s the first rule?” They will likely tell you, with eyes widening slightly for emphasis, and maybe surreptitiously looking around for a source of danger: Don’t Panic. Yeah, sure, maybe we did take our early parenting cues from Douglass Adams, but it worked then and it works now. I remember one of the first times we started drilling those words into Elliot was while explaining what he should do if he were ever to become separated from us at the Topsfield Fair. I even made little three year old Elliot a bracelet with a cube on it. Two of the sides had my phone number on it. The other two sides had the words Don’t Panic as a reassurance for Elliot, who could read, and who could also panic, should the right situation present itself.
Since then, Don’t Panic has been our first family rule, our family mantra, and often the reason we get through some sticky situations with patience, if not grace. Larry naturally doesn’t panic. In crisis situation, he is the best person to have because he becomes very calm and very focused. We all aspire to those traits. Sometimes we are there. Other times the closest the kids and I come to that level of calm is to repeat Don’t Panic to ourselves until help comes or the situation resolves itself.
Poor Merrie has had two Don’t Panic Challenging Moments in the past 72 hours. The first came on Saturday when she accidentally locked herself out of our flat when retrieving a UPS delivery. The giant German door — solidly made and not the least forgiving — closed behind her and she was left in the hallway with a package but no keys or cellphone and no one home. Thankfully she was mostly dressed (albeit casually) and even had her shoes on. She also had way more makeup then she would ever be allowed to wear outside the house as she was playing with her cosmetic kit when the package arrived.
As she told it, she almost panicked, but caught herself. She said, “momma, I was ready to just sit and cry and totally panic. But then I remembered Don’t Panic, so I took a few breaths. Then I remembered we have nice neighbors downstairs who know us and who speak English.” So made-up Merrie presented herself at our downstairs neighbors. Fortunately, I had given them a card with our contact information back when they first moved in, so Merrie was able to use their cellphone to call me. She doesn’t yet have my German phone number memorized.
Her second Don’t Panic moment came today when her school bus got in a fender bender. She called me to let me know she was OK but that there had been an accident. Everyone on the bus was OK, so I am told, but Merrie really kept it together and I think helped calm some of the other kids too. She called me a few times to give me updates and to let me know (and maybe let herself know) that she was ok. And while she managed not to panic, it did leave her flustered enough that she inadvertently left her wallet, cell phone, and keys on her bus when she finally got home. So Miss Merrie presented herself to the same nice (and very tolerant) neighbors who let her use their cell again to call me.
I give her props for coming straight out and telling me she left her items on the bus. If she had delayed it could have been a real problem, but I was able to reach the transportation director, who in turn was able to radio the driver before he dropped the bus off for repairs. The driver found her items. Crisis averted. Why? Because no one panicked.