Vacuuming Spiders

by Connor Zimmerman on January 30, 2020


A piano
Photo courtesy of

by Sarah McLaughlin ’23

During his piano lesson, Grayson doesn’t really seem like himself.

I know he’s not particularly talkative, but he’s even more reserved than usual today. He looks at the music with stoic, sad eyes and takes longer than normal to pick up on the new concepts I try to teach him. I’m tempted to ask if everything’s alright, if he’s tired, or if it’s too difficult, but I keeping pushing it off. After he finishes this song, I tell myself. But I don’t.

Eventually, we have only five minutes left, and we’ve barely accomplished anything. I check my phone for the time, wondering if I should just wrap it up early—surely his mother, waiting in her car, wouldn’t mind.

“Alright,” I say. “So, just practice the same two pages for next week, okay?”

He doesn’t respond. He’s staring at the open book, completely still.

“It’s okay,” I say carefully. “I know we didn’t make a lot of progress today, but don’t feel bad. Sometimes music is really hard, and you have to take your time with it. It’s…” I trail off as I notice his eyes welling up. Oh, God, have I made him cry?

“Grayson?” I ask, trying my best to make sure I don’t sound like I’m about to burst into tears. “What’s wrong?”

He sniffs and shakes his head.

I shift in my chair to face him. “It’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Do you want me to get your mom?”

He shakes his head again, and this time he opens his mouth. “My…” He speaks in the smallest voice I’ve ever heard. “My Gramma. She’s sick. Mommy says she’s going to be okay, but she looks scared.” A tear escapes his eye and rolls down his cheek. “I’m scared.”

 I freeze. Am I supposed to try to comfort him? What do I say? This is a five-year-old kid, who apparently trusts me enough (more than his own mother?) to tell me what’s bothering him. I’ve never been good at helping friends who are in emotional crises or even just feeling little down—I’m the type of person who offers to grab a glass of water or a box of tissues rather than stay in the room and talk to someone. And if it’s a little kid? Forget it.

Tentatively, I reach out, making sure he doesn’t flinch before I lay my hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay,” I say. “Your Gramma will be okay. And you should talk to your mom. Even if she’s scared, too, it’s better to both be scared together.”

He sniffles again, but at least he turns to look at me. “What do you mean?”

I shrug. “Well, think about it like this. What’s something that you think is really scary?” 

He pauses for a moment. “Spiders. Only the really big ones, though.”

I nod. “Okay. Spiders. I don’t like spiders, either. So if there was a really big spider right there—” I point next to his hand on the piano, and he quickly pulls it away. “—it’d be really scary. But if you show me the spider, I can tell you to keep watching it while I go get the vacuum.”

He laughs a little. “That’s what me and Mommy do. She vacuums the spiders. Sometimes she even screams.”

I smile. “Yeah? So, you see, when both of you are together, it’s less scary, right?” 

He nods. “Right.”

I squeeze his shoulder gently. “So you should talk to her. Tell her what’s making you scared, and even if she is scared, too, she can still help you.” 

He frowns. “But I don’t want her to vacuum Gramma.”

I can’t help laughing. “Don’t worry. She won’t. But she’ll give you a big hug, and you can give her a big hug, too, and then you’ll both be less scared. I promise.”

He looks at me with big, round eyes—bigger than scary spiders. “You promise?” 

I nod. “Yeah. I promise.”