My oldest son Francis, (8) is a highly sensitive child. Some even consider him undiagnosed on the Autism spectrum. I was never really one for labels, but if it helps bring context and understanding to the story then his circumstance is worth noting.
Francis struggles with looping thoughts, anxiety, sensory processing ‘delays, transitional difficulties and more. These issues can flare or dim depending on how we’ve honored his needs, or considered sensory input and so on.
One very cold winter night I remember it being the worst of the worst. The winds howled against the window pane in his room. He was already cued up, running through his long mental list of ‘what if’s’. I was laying with him, conducting our regular nighttime routine, holding him while he whimpered and trembled. I remember him looking more worried than usual, I also remember emotionally preparing myself for a long night. I rubbed at my own weary eyes and patted his head.
“I hate the wind.” he sobs into his pillow and tugs at his hair a bit. I fought the urge to tell him to stop.
“I know you do, sweety.”
“Tell it to stop…”
“I wish I could, but the wind decided tonight was a good night to roar. You’re safe here my love.”
“How do you know?”
The next words I spoke, I can’t say I regret… maybe in a more alert state, I would have responded differently. Maybe I was desperate for rest, or maybe it was Divinely inspired… I don’t know what prompted me to say this, but I do know… it changed everything.
“Because mommy is the dragon slayer. And she can protect you from almost anything. And if it exists in mommy, remember, it exists in you, because you came from me.”
His eyes grew wide and heartbeat quickened, I knew instantly he felt this. Suddenly the whole world was different. In an INSTANT, his reality changed.
“A dragon slayer?!”
“Yep. And if we can slay dragons, we can laugh with the wind. We can do anything.”
The wind knocked against the window again and he rolled his head toward the noise, blinking this time, instead of recoiling in fear.
“What else, mommy?”
“See, dragon slayers are warriors. And warriors know how to understand their fear so they may overcome. They know dragons exist, therefore they are easier to see and to slay. Most people run away from their dragons, but not you. You are the dragon slayer, you know it’s real and you battle it anyway.”
The wind knocked and banged, his heart raced yet somehow, the sound moved differently through the room. I rubbed his hair and he lay silent, contemplating my words.
“Do you know mommy will always slay the dragons with you? I will do that. I will stand with you so you feel safe. Until the day comes when you do it on your own.”
Stillness enveloped the room. His excitement whirred with exhaustion while his mind journeyed down the path of the warrior hero. Visions danced in my head, of me, of Francis and of fire-breathing dragons. I often wonder if he saw it too.
I never worried more as a parent, wondering if I said the wrong thing. Praying maybe he’d just forget in the morning I said anything at all.
I know 2 things from that night. The first, he slept better than he had in months. Maybe even years. The second… he did NOT forget.
Not only did he remember, it became a part of him. Recently, he came home from school and said he told his friends his secret. I encouraged him for being brave enough to share his story but told him not to be discouraged if people didn’t understand.
As it turns out, though…his friends were interested in ‘Francis the Dragon Slayer’. They asked questions, he gave answers, and something quite remarkable happened… his confidence grew. The more people he told, the more stories he created, the more he embodied the fearless warrior. He told everyone. Just today I found him rolling in our family room… jumping, spinning, ‘slaying’… ACTIVE. Alive! With heart and soul! He told me he was perfecting his moves.
As I watched him, I fought back my own tears. I’ve never really seen him so….. free, so happy, so joyful, so self-assured. Perhaps he was finally in deep trust that he truly is (and always was) the hero of his own story. He was absolutely fearless. My sweet Francis, the child that feared the night, consumed by the monsters that would haunt his dreams. All of that seemed to fade away. I’m not saying we don’t have a few rough nights but it’s not NEARLY the turmoil it once was.
All he needed, was to see himself as the hero, the conqueror, the warrior. That his dragons, whether metaphorical or real, were something he could defeat, on his own time in his own way.
I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but at some point, somewhere between a restless night just 3 short months ago and today, Francis became the dragon slayer. And I believe it’s exactly the medicine he needed to make a monumental shift in his long battle with anxiety. He truly is an undeniably courageous warrior spirit.