Once upon a time (before I had kids), I worked at non-profit organization that provided affordable housing and life skills to at-risk girls transitioning from foster care to independent living.
The cards were stacked against these young women who grew up in the system with little stability and few positive role models. Many of the hurdles they faced – school, employment, money, health, and relationships – were predictable, but some were unexpected. For instance, I met girls who didn’t know how to mail a letter. No one had ever taught them where to write the return address or place a stamp on an envelope.
Another unanticipated obstacle was the weather. Specifically, rain. Rain was an excuse that had surprisingly severe consequences. It kept the young women from showing up at school, job interviews, doctor’s appointments, and even court appearances. It was a colossal stumbling block to success.
It was frustrating and it exposed my white privilege (among many resources, I had a car), but it gave me a deep understanding of the complexities of gender, race, and poverty. It taught me gratitude and compassion, and I think of that profound professional experience often as I raise my own children to become caring, self-sufficient adults who value personal responsibility and showing up, even when – and especially when – it rains.
Recently, my nine-year-old had an appointment with a reading coach. Not surprisingly, he didn’t want to go. The sky turned dark during his plea that summer should be fun and reading wasn’t fun at all.
“We’re going.” I was determined. He needed the help and I had confirmed the appointment that morning. I herded the kids into the garage quickly so we could get in the car before it started raining, but I wasn’t fast enough. As the garage door squeaked open, the sky unleashed a wild storm. Rain fell in thick, heavy sheets, sometimes sideways. Wind whipped. Thunder alternated between low rumbles and loud crackles.
Regrettably, the car was not inside the garage. It was approximately ten steps away in the driveway and exposed to the elements. I grabbed a golf-size umbrella from the floor and opened it up. “Let’s go. I’ll take you to the car one at a time.”
“I am not going out there.” My nine-year-old was adamant.
“Come on. It’s just rain. The storm will pass by the time we get to your appointment.” Rain pounded the pavement. Sirens blared in the distance.
“I’m not going anywhere.” My seven-year-old joined the crusade. “You’re the one who says we’re not supposed to use umbrellas when there’s thunder and lightning.”
Damn it. I would not use rain as an excuse, and I wouldn’t let my kids do it either. “Boys, we’re going. Now.” Rain smacked the car. Thunder roared. Sirens shrieked closer.
I forced them into the car under the umbrella and possible (but not confirmed) flashes of lightning. We were drenched. I put the windshield wipers on the fastest speed and backed slowly out of the driveway.
Large, broken branches tree limbs littered the ground. Half way down the street, an entire tree had fallen through a fence and blocked three quarters of the road.
“Mom, this is crazy! Let’s go home!”
I ignored their voices of reason because I had a point to make, although it might’ve been lost in translation by that time. “We have an appointment! Rain is never an excuse!”
It occurred to me that a tornado may have blown through our small town. I’d witnessed the aftermath of several category three hurricanes and the scene outside our car looked eerily similar. Still, I continued driving. We would be late, but my kids would learn how to show up.
My cell phone rang. I shouldn’t have answered it because I needed to concentrate on avoiding debris on the road, but thank goodness I did.
“I lost power from the storm.” It was the reading coach. She worked out of her house. “We’ll have to reschedule.”
Dear God! Hallelujah! It’s like a post-apocalyptic world out here! It’s complete chaos! We shouldn’t be outside!
“Boys, it appears that our appointment has been postponed.” I spoke in a calm and even tone. They cheered. I shushed them and preached again about the importance of meeting obligations. “Rain is never an excuse!”
Clearly, I’d lost my mind.
I made a right at the next light to circle around the block, but a fallen tree blocked that street, too. I turned the car around and drove around the tree we passed moments earlier and pulled back into our driveway.
It was a doozy of a storm. There were wide-spread power outages, and on the next block over, a fallen tree narrowly missed hitting a house. Even though we didn’t make it to our appointment and despite the fact we could’ve died from a downed power line or an uprooted tree, I’m confident I taught my kids a valuable lesson about accountability. That, and about the importance of checking the weather forecast before leaving the house.
Rain is never a good excuse! (Except when it is.)