Small Snippets: Facing Arch's Anxiety–And My Own

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We are in full school mode at the O'Dell house and it is going. Glenn happily gets up at 6:30 a.m., chipper and full of smiles. He gets himself dressed with no more than the monitoring required for any five-year-old boy and is eager to greet the new day. Archie, however, is another story–a much more trying story.

Whereas Glenn cheerily pops out of bed, Archie has to be dragged into the morning–sullen faced and clambering for his bed. After cajoling him out of his pajamas and through his morning routine, I trick him into leaving the house by offering to pretend-play that we are the PJ Masks as we walk down the street to the bus stop. For those that do not have to watch cartoons on repeat, the PJ Masks are a trio of crime-fighting superhero kids. While getting Arch out of bed and into his day is stressful enough that we are both almost in tears by the time we set out on our PJ Masks adventure, this is not the most difficult aspect of our morning. The school bus is where the real theatrics ensue.

He has a whole line-up of antics, exaggerated in nature, as he realizes that he has reached the final battle in his ongoing fight to stay at home. He cries and hides, tries to run away and locks his feet, adamantly refusing to get on the bus. His personal best is when he pretends like he is going to willingly get on the bus, climbs up to the second step and suddenly goes completely limp, his little body falling backward expecting that I will catch him, his limbs heavy and unresponsive, his eyes closed in the pretense that he cannot hear or see what is going on around him–guilefully forcing me and his bus aid to pick him up and secure him into his seat. While I find it incredibly frustrating–to put it mildly, I have to applaud his commitment.

I applaud his effort and I spend the walk back home agonizing over the ordeal, fighting the impulse to pull him out of school and homeschool him. Silently berating myself as a mother, for choosing to send him into the (his) unknown when I could create a safe and cozy nest for him; one where he could learn and explore without ever having to leave his comfort zone. A constant internal battle of wanting to protect him from the slightest distress and knowing that discomfort is often integral to growth.

It breaks my heart to send him off in distress, even more so because I was a socially anxious child like Archie. I cried every school day until the first grade when faced with the crippling anxiety of being separated from my mother. In some ways my own experience of living with anxiety makes me more resolute in my determination that Archie not be allowed to give in to his. I know all too well that the anxiety will remain long after he has outgrown the cries and outward displays of fear. I know that running from fear only allows it to grow.

Prior to becoming a mother, I would whimsically think of the things I would teach my children one day, and of the places I would take them. Naively, I never thought about the things it would be most important for me to teach them, the real lessons that must be imparted–like facing fear, most especially when you want to run from it. Or how difficult it would be to do so. I was not prepared for how hard it would be not to fight their battles for them–external or internal. Perhaps not prepared for their battles to reflect my own.

As I walk home from the bus stop each morning, internally fortifying my resolve not to rescue Arch from his imagined fears, I inevitably begin to reflect on the ways in which I am allowing fear to keep me in my comfort zone. Noting the ways in which anxiety creeps into the corners of my life, in subtle, shifting forms, akin to mythical hydra.

Not writing a column regularly has been a way in which I could allow myself to stay in my comfort zone. An easy excuse not to face the fear of being an imposter, the fear of having nothing worthwhile to say, of playing outside of my comfort level. While I can pretend that taking on other projects, and pushing the one thing I want to do to the back burner every month is a selfless necessity, at root it is anxiety. A well-honed, more refined version of Archie's more rudimentary attempts to evade fear. I know that Arch's battle with anxiety is not going to dissipate. I have known that since I first recognized the trait within him. I can not face Arch's fears for him, nor would it help him if I did so. I can however make it a point to face my own.

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