This is the rainy season. Every year at this time, I realize with a sharp intake of moist air, just how starved my body feels for those water-rich molecules of a coming rain. During Canadian summers, the heavy clouds constantly sweeping across the sky are filled with hydration rather than pollution. I miss it. During a recent thunderstorm in Beijing, this feeling was made potent through my kids.
My daughter (age 4) and son (2) have only known life in Beijing. Sure, we travel back to Canada once a year during the summer months, so they have experienced heavy summer rains, but their day-to-day reality is an urban one, in a dry climate, at a time in this city’s development when the air quality cannot be relied upon.
The early summer Beijing thunderstorm started at about 10pm. Both kids had long been asleep, but my son woke up, agitated and whimpering about twenty minutes into the storm.
“I’m scared, mommy!” he said, and so I naturally gathered him into my arms until he was calm again and then placed him back on his pillow gently.
“It’s just a storm,” I said. “Everything’s okay. It will pass.”
He reluctantly went back to sleep.
About an hour later, the storm had come closer and the rumbling thunder was more resonant. Its sound waves traveled through our apartment walls into the very fabric of our blankets. This time, I lay down beside him until he fell back to sleep, holding his little hand while reminding my weary self to be patient. He’s still so small, I thought.
Just before he fell asleep, he turned to me, opened his eyes and said this surprising sentence:
“Mommy, I don’t like fireworks.” Then he closed his eyes again and was asleep. I smiled at his perfect face. He had clearly not understood the word “storm.”
He’ll understand in the morning, I thought, when he sees that the rain has made everything wet outside.
When my daughter woke up an hour later, she was much more vocal about the situation. She got straight out of her bed and came to find me in mine, complaining loudly about the “fireworks” waking her up.
“Why do people play with fireworks, mommy? I don’t like loud noises, mommy! I’m scared!”
This is when it finally dawned on me that the sound of fireworks in Beijing is more natural for my kids than the sound of rain. They have only known fireworks to rumble and shake the house. And I don’t mean just at Chinese New Year; fireworks happen regularly in our mostly-Chinese compound at dawn (also waking them up) for marriages or other unexplained celebrations for which the obnoxious bang of several thousand RMB worth of explosives is “required.” Clearly, I’m not a fan. My kids have picked that up.
So, how do I explain to them that thunder is a great thing? That the sound of the sky rumbling (preceded by an awesome flash of lightning illuminating the night blackness for an instant) is a reminder that the Earth will soon be hydrated again. Nature will be greener, more alive, more replete. And, perhaps most importantly for Beijing, that the air will be cleaner after the rain?
The next day, when digging out our umbrellas and rubber boots, I told them, “Mother Nature has her own fireworks, kids. It’s called thunder. Sometimes it wakes us up, but it brings rain! And rain is fun! Let’s go jump in the puddles!”
They were thrilled. I’ll be reminding them of puddle jumping during the next Beijing thunderstorm. May it keep their fears at bay.
About the Writer
Ember Swift is a Canadian musician and writer who has been living in Beijing since late 2008. She and her husband Guo Jian (国囝), who is also a musician, have a daughter called Echo (国如一) and a son called
Topaz or “Paz” (国世龙).
This article originally appeared on page 42 of the 2016 June-July Issue of beijingkids magazine. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com.