I labeled my second child an anxious baby. My background is in psychology and I get it. I know what labels can do to people. So, I of course had consciously decided when I became a mom, I was going to try very hard not to label my children. However good my intentions were, my follow through on the notion was eh. I have a variety of different labels for each kid depending on the day. Some labels, which would be used on a good day, would indicate their talent, particular interest area or my feelings of specific, individual, affection towards them. Other labels are a little less flattering. And, of course, in my mind they are secret labels. My kids don’t outwardly know that I think this way. But I am aware that sometimes it seeps into their consciousness and some of the roles/risks and approaches they take in life mirror this. Whether I like it or not.
I couldn’t leave the house much because he refused a bottle. If we left him with a sitter or good intentioned friends, we would never see the sitter again and would have to pay friends. In all fairness, he was just a baby. But in truth, he was incredibly difficult to soothe. He slept terribly. I slept in his rocking chair more than I slept in my bed. After two years of this, I was ready to die. Someone suggested he was lonely. We moved him and his crib in with his big brother. Upon arrival, he declared, “I want to be a BIG boy!” So we broke down the crib and put him in a twin bed with rails. This is the part where the kid realizes he is no longer behind bars and begins a two year ritual of running into his parents room four to five times a night screaming, yelling, crying about one thing or another. In turn, I screamed, cried and yelled a lot myself. It was a special time. Hallmark moments all around.
As he got older, my son started talking about being afraid. Afraid of people, dogs, monsters, dying—you name it, he worried about it. His eyes would fill with tears at the prospect of going to the circus because he had never been before. Going to a play with Grandma was nerve racking. No sleepovers. New situations brought about fantasies of how totally terrible he JUST KNEW fill-in-the-blank would be. A trip we talked about taking as a whole family back to his sister’s birthplace in Ethiopia was a no-go for him because he was terrified of all the shots. We came to expect and deal with resistance around just about any new situation. He was the one we had to coax. He was our frightened child.
We were always quick to reassure him. Make phone calls ahead to make people aware that he was nervous/sensitive/scared. We did our best to cushion the big, bad world for him. I invented pixie dust—my MAC eye glitter that I put in a small crystal heart-shaped ring holder. I told him it was magic. I told him it would give him sweet dreams. I would put a tiny bit on his forehead every night. Some mornings he would come down to breakfast and it would be obvious that he had gotten out of bed after I kissed him goodnight because his entire face would be dusted in glimmer. I spent a great deal of time fearing anxiety was going to swallow him up. That fear would rule his life. And then suddenly, right under my nose, he morphed into a kid of courage.
It didn’t happen all at once. It was gradual. And completely initiated in his own time. But I realize as he was changing I was hanging on to who I had decided he was. If he demonstrated bravery, I was surprised. And looking back I realize he showed courage often, but I wasn’t bringing that into the definition of him. I thought of it as a moment. A fluke. The latest came when my son managed (cause “unknown”) to cut the tip of his tongue with a scissors. The blood was unbelievable. My oldest near fainted and threw towels at me while gagging and covering his eyes. My youngest boy exclaimed, “He cut off his tongue?!” But my frightened kid? Cool as a cucumber. As we rode to the ER in the rain, he bled into towel after towel asking level headed questions. He took the shot in his tongue, in his arm and the stitches that followed without flinching. It was unbelievable. And that was my frightened son.
So I’ve been contemplating. How many more lessons do I need in order to learn that holding on to my preconceived notions of how I see my children only limits my ability to experience the here and now? They are growing, changing, emerging right under my nose. If I spend too much time trying to anticipate what’s going to happen or who they are going to become, I think I might just miss out on who they are in this very moment, who, for all intents and purposes is who they are. And today—today, my son says he wants to go to Ethiopia.