My daughter Rosalia has her daycare graduation on Wednesday. She promised that she will sing and do the choreography that they’ve been practicing for months. I’m not getting my hopes up. This is the same girl who refused to budge in dance class because she was afraid of doing the wrong move. She literally just stood there and gave everyone the stank eye. Following her first swim class, she declared she wasn’t going back, and after an hour of discussion, I discovered that it was because the instructor had asked her to do something she had trouble with, and she didn’t want to disappoint her in the future. Her therapist says it’s performance anxiety. Yup, my five year old sees a therapist for her anxiety because it’s that bad.
This is also the same little girl whose sassiness puts my smart mouth to shame. At pick up one day last week, I asked her “What was your favorite part of your day”, because I had read one of those posts somewhere about the best alternative questions to “how was your day”. Most days she reluctantly answers with one detail then makes the effort to politely tell me she doesn’t feel like telling me about any more. That day she barked “Well I dunno what the BEST part was, but the WORST part is when YOU came.” Yup. (And yes, there was a teaching moment and a consequence that followed for all those who were quick to judge).
My daughter can be both the most confident, eloquent, mature, and feisty little thing you’ve ever seen, and in the same morning, she can be paralyzed by her own insecurities, anxiety, worry, or whatever else it is that flips her switch. This morning started with the regular attitude. She was asking me a series of some useless questions like most kids do, and I was tired and annoyed and didn’t provide adequate answers for your highness. At one point, I answered “I dunno Rosalia!” Cue Miss Sass. “Oh so the Great Mommy doesn’t know everything afterall!” (complete with head jerk, raised eyebrows and winced face) She literally said The Great Mommy.
Fastforward 45 minutes later, she is hanging onto my neck like a baby chimpanzee, begging me not to leave her classroom. Hyperventilation and all “Don’t leave meeeeeee”. She’s been going to daycare for 3 years. You would think drop off would have gotten easier. Now at this point, my patience is in the negative and my anxiety is making me an irritable time bomb, and, as per the therapist’s suggestion, I am sharing my feelings with her. “Mommy is getting close to her limit, Rosalia. I don’t want to get angry, but I don’t have a lot of patience left. I know you have an ugly feeling inside right now, and I do too, so we need to find a solution, and the hugs aren’t working”. “DOOOOOOOON’T GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” 12 kids and 3 adults staring to see what my next move is.
I grab a marker and draw a purple heart in my hand, then do the same to hers. I press her purple heart into mine and tell her they are charging, and I try to sound as convincing as possible when I say that it’s filling my heart with love and making the ugly feeling in my heart go away, and if she concentrates hard enough, it’ll work on her too. “IT’S NOT WOOOOOORKKKKINNNNNGG. DOOOOOOOON’T GOOOOOOO!” I scrambled some more and showed her that when I miss her, I will squeeze my palm and I’ll be hugging the spot where our hearts touched, and she could do the same. By this time she had stopped hollering and I was able to calm down, and she asked me her usual questions like “promise you won’t forget to pick me up” and other worries caused by her anxiety that need reassurance, and off I went.
Her therapist, who is excellent, made an interesting observation. Rosalia’s separation anxiety is strongest when I am not well. I had a terrible, miserable day Saturday and yesterday I had to be ‘on’ all day as I was hosting a shower, and I was fragile and emotionally drained, and I desperately needed time to recharge and recenter. Rosalia felt that and reacted, subconsciously, by needing to be close to me to make sure I’d be okay. If I analyze every time her separation anxiety has acted up to dramatic levels (and trust me, I have) it has always been when I myself have not been well.
And so with this knowledge, comes great responsibility. Giancarlo is also an empath, and feeds off my negative energy too, so my family’s peace depends on mine. I have to tame the monsters in my head before they call out to and provoke the little monsters and we all lose control. And that is the shitshow we lived for a few years in this house. No parenting books or mood stabilizing meds were able to fix that. It’s a work in progress and it starts with me. And that is a heavy load to carry.