The Fearless and The Anxious

Enough with the generic titles. It’s getting awkward to list the kids’ ages, and I get frustrated not being able to title the blogs based on what they actually contain. So from here on out, I’ll be nixing the time-stamp and utilizing my creativity.

Reid is 11 months old now. He is learning new things every day, and it is getting so fun. Just in the last couple weeks, he’s learned to wave bye-bye, give hugs and kisses, pat my breast when he wants milk (he usually says, “Mama” while patting), and sign “more” when I say the word… I’m not sure he quite understands what it means yet.

I thought for sure he’d be walking by now. He’s been standing on his own with confidence for months. He can stand up from sitting without using anything for leverage. He can go from standing, to squatting, to sitting. He can bend over and pick something up off the floor and right himself. He can wiggle, dance, clap, play with toys while standing. But he shows no interest in walking. Only occasionally will he let me lead him around by holding his hands while he walks. He prefers just to crawl since he’s a master crawler–a sprint-crawler even.

He’s also a climber. He tries to climb on everything. We bought a sit and stand stroller from some friends at church recently which both boys love. When not in use, it is parked in our front hallway. Reid loves to climb up into it and stand in the seat. He could stand there playing for several minutes. In fact, I’m not sure how long he’d be content there since I usually get him down after a few minutes so I can attend to something else. We have also found him sitting on the bottom shelf of our built-in DVD unit, inside the bathroom cupboard (completely inside), standing on the open door of the dishwasher, on Daniel’s bed, and he desperately tries to fling himself into the bathtub as soon as he notices the water is on. He is going to get hurt one of these days. He just is. And I’m afraid.

Daniel never did that kind of stuff. He was curious. He would make feeble attempts. But he wasn’t the daredevil that Reid is. I can see huge differences in the two already. It’s as if I birthed the two most opposite boys our DNA would allow, and not just in their behavior. Reid is nearly three inches shorter than Daniel was at this age. Reid still barely has any hair, while Daniel had his first haircut at 3 months old. Daniel could say several words at this age, but Reid is still only babbling–he does say, “Mama” and perhaps “bath” (as “ba!”). Several wise moms have told me that you think you have it under control, when the next kid comes along and changes everything. It’s so true.

Daniel has been dealing with some anxiety issues lately. Thankfully, they’ve calmed down and he’s slowly getting back to his old self (phew!). The immediate trigger for his anxiety was two-fold (three-fold, if you count Reid being born). First, Dan and I planned a trip to San Fransisco to surprise his friend Mike for his 30th birthday. We arranged for Daniel to spend the night with his grandparents (something he loves to do), bought our plane tickets and booked our hotel. We told Daniel that we were going to go on a trip while he spent the night with grandma and grandpa. But that didn’t go over very well. We decided not to talk about the trip in front of him, and instead just talk about how much fun he’d have spending the night since he was going to get to go to a baseball game.

Right around that same time, during Daniel’s gymnastics class (he’d been attending for about 6 weeks already with absolutely no issue), he looked up to where I normally stand and watch him to let me know he had to go to the bathroom. When he couldn’t locate me (I had gone around the corner to another viewing area to eat a muffin and wasn’t paying attention to the class below), one of the teachers walked with him to the bathroom. On his way back he spotted me and seemed okay. He went back downstairs to the class, but before he even sat back down on his spot, looked up to find me again, couldn’t see me for a second, and freaked out. He started crying and wouldn’t return to the class. And every class since then (about 6 weeks ago now), he’s needed me to be with him down in the gym area (the gym regulations state that parents are not allowed to be in the gym area, but they have kindly made an exception for us). For a few weeks, he would barely leave my side, but now he’s content as long as I am within 10 feet of him.

I think the initial problem started when I attended my dear friend’s birth when Daniel was only about a year and a half old. I left him for several hours with my mom in San Diego (he’d never been without me for more than an hour or two). He didn’t know my mom very well, and he wasn’t terribly familiar with her house. We’d visited several times, but nothing more than a day or two here and there. It seemed that the day went well. He ate, slept, and played with my mom. He didn’t seem lethargic, or depressed. But he was obviously relieved to have me back. And every time we visited my mom after that, he wouldn’t let me leave his sight. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without him. I couldn’t even go around the corner without him panicking. And while he is okay visiting my mom’s house these days, he still has to be reassured that I am not going to leave him there. I’m sure the issue is not with my mom, since he adores her when she visits at our house. But in his mind, her house is associated with that feeling of abandonment.

Thus, I have concluded, when we told him we were going on a trip without him, when he couldn’t spot me at gymnastics class, that terrifying panic was conjured up for him. Now, whenever we had to be separated (dentist appointments, a date with Dan), Daniel screamed, cried, had to be peeled off of me. A good friend and child psychiatrist confirmed my suspicions that we (at least I) should not go on our trip without Daniel–that his extreme separation anxiety would only be made worse if I forced us to be separated, that we needed to help him deal with his anxiety step by tiny step.

I felt frustrated, powerless, worried, annoyed. I thought it was going to take months of hard work. Instead, things have been getting easier on their own. Well, not totally on their own. We have been talking with him about his feelings, reassuring him that we would never leave him without telling him first–and even then we would always leave him with someone who loved him and who he trusted–and we would always come back.I’ve been leaving for short amounts of time when necessary (multiple dentist appointments, Holistic Moms meetings), but never more than necessary, and I’ve called to check in and make sure he’s okay. And little by little, he’s been okay with my leaving. Little by little, he’s going back to the confident little boy who plays by himself and reads books to pass the time. He’s once again comfortable enough to play with daddy, or auntie, or grandma with me in another part of the house. He even went happily with Dan to the grocery store a few days ago.

I’m relieved. But nervous about what else might trigger his anxiety response again. I know the fear. I have the same feelings about earthquakes. And I was reminded of how terrible those feelings are when we had a small but violent earthquake in the middle of the night. I could barely sleep afterward. I jumped with every move Dan made in the bed. I lurched awake with that firey surge of electric butterflies in my body every few minutes sure that the whole house was going to come crumbling down on me. For several nights, I was afraid. The fear got less and less every day, but occasionally something would bring it back up for me.

So even through my frustration, my worry for Daniel, through my own fears, I was able to have real empathy for him. Fear is a terrible thing to have to experience–especially as a child with no real ability to rationalize, to talk yourself down. I dealt with irrational fears as a child myself, and remember how paralyzing they were. I’m sad my poor little Daniel has to deal with that dumb inherited trait of mine (and Dan’s as well), but grateful that Dan and I both have experience dealing with it personally so we can help him through it gently should it come up again.

For now, he is doing well. He still won’t spend the night at his grandparents’ house. He still prefers that I stay close by. But he’s  not terrified anymore. And for now, I’ll call it a win.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Rebecca said,

    You describe both of your boys so well . . . I can’t wait to hang out and play again some time soon. Thanks for your insight on the separation and anxiety. It’s sometimes hard for me to step back and think about the long history leading up to a trigger and a change in behavior.


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