Every night my boys ask me to lay with them. Francis (8), my oldest typically experiences heightened states of anxiety before bed. Tonight was no exception but my awareness was about to change.
As I lay with Gene(4) who is practicing ABC’s and asking me to make square shapes with my hands, I hear oldest brother in the next room over, crying. Gene and I continue playing until Francis peeks his head around the door frame and asks if I’m done with Gene yet.
I think… that’s not fair… it’s not fair to Gene. I feel a rise of irritation to my head. I firmly state, “not yet buddy” and ask for him for some patience. He disappears into his room, more tears.
I cut my snuggles with Gene short and make my way to Francis. I feel my forehead and ears burn hot. I am annoyed, angry and exhausted. Part of me believes he’s faking for attention. I wonder if I’ll be able to cool off long enough to listen with an open heart. I fend off my own mental warfare on my capabilities as a parent. Everything seemed fine earlier (I think to myself)… Why now? Why this? Am I not giving him enough attention? Am I coddling him? Will I ever understand him? A hundred thoughts popped up in the 4 steps it takes to move from one bedroom to another.
I lay with Francis who is sobbing into his pillow. I take a deep breathe and tell him to talk to me. I am open and avaiable to him.
And then the whole world came crashing in, “I miss Mrs. G (his former teacher) and I don’t want to go to summer camp…. and what if the new teacher is mean to me, and what if something is wrong, and what if you can’t find me,and what if she doesn’t let me go to the bathroom, and what if I don’t like this?.” His cries intensify and he can’t finish his sentence.
Suddenly I feel my own body unwillingly trembling and fight the urge to cry with him. My chest is tight I’m completely embarrassed with myself for believing this was all for attention.
“Okay, okay shhhhh.” He throws his arms around my neck and my heart explodes.
“Listen to me. I understand why you’re feeling nervous Francis.”
“Yes. Of course I do. It’s perfectly normal to feel worried. This is new and I know new things make you nervous.”
“I’m scared of summer camp.”
He sniffles, coughs and trembles between us. We spent the following moments talking about WHO and WHAT makes him feel safe at summer camp. We identified 3 people he can find if he needs comfort. I also reminded him he can always ask those people to call Mommy if things are too overwhelming.
We moved through each of his ‘what if’s’ with thoroughness and honesty.
Some of those ‘what if’s’ couldn’t be answered. But, I reminded him how, ‘what if’s’ don’t always have to be scary. The end result of a what if is usually met with excitement and happiness. “What about all the fear you’ve overcome? Like starting first grade, joining the soccer team, and flying in a plane for the first time?” We identified as many what if’s with positive outcomes as possible for as long as possible.. until he yawned.
“Are You Okay?”
“I’m tired mommy.”
I kissed him good night and went to my bed.
I’m not here to say our conversation cured his anxiety. But, I can tell you what’s important, is that moment we made an honest connection over his worries, was the moment I felt waves of compassion move between us. When I took the time to place myself inside his trembling fears, it was enough to let him know that I take his needs seriously.
I can’t cure his anxiety. I can’t force him to be anything but what he is. His worries are his to feel, they are a part of him. I can’t take them away. But sitting with him in those harrowing spaces is the mommy medicine he needs to feel true healing. I can put all my preconceived notions aside and love him when he’s tangled inside a web of fears. Together, we can be in these uncomfortable spaces.
What’s matters is my acceptance and empathy of all that makes him a uniquely sensitive soul. I love him for the way he perceives the world. I love him for his worried heart, I love him for all the ups and downs and in betweens.
I will sit with him in his restless state as long as he needs, just so he knows he’s never alone.