Sometimes, there are things about your kids that you notice immediately. Sometimes these are cute, sweet, happy things. Like Sassy and the two identical (except for color) baby blankets that have been at her side since she was born. One pink (now faded to white) and one purple.
I got her two thinking she would prefer one over the other, but she ended up bonding to both equally, so we took them everywhere with us. All the trips we’ve been on from 2004-2010 have included pink and purple blankie. Oftentimes I would think, “Life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to keep track of these stinkin’ blankies!!!” Once, I left them at a hotel buffet, and spent the next 2 hours tracking them down from maintenance person to manager person back to maintenance person back to concierge back to desk clerk back to housekeeping back to maintenance person. By the end of it, I was probably a crazy looking woman hyperventilating about two very important blankets. She loved them just that much, that I couldn’t bear to leave them anywhere without her.
And sometimes the things you notice are stressful, and you wish you could change them. Perhaps even try actively to change them! Like Golfers extreme arachnophobia. Obviously, I mean his acute fear of spiders. Like me, he would often not sleep at night just imagining there might be one in his bed somewhere. He couldn’t watch them on TV. When the third LOTR movie came out, and Frodo and Sam met up with the mega spider??? The most traumatic thing Golfer had ever seen. He couldn’t even talk about them without shivering and wincing.
He also experienced a pretty extreme people phobia. He was shy to the nth degree. At 2, when we’d go to the park, he’d play for a few minutes and then come back over to sit beside me and touch my knee with his hand. Kind of like a recharging of his batteries, and then he’s walk back out for a few minutes before coming back. At 4, when the big group of kids would be playing on one side of the street, he’d be on the other, kid-less, side. He didn’t like talking to new people, or sometimes even people he did know. He was my little shadow. A cute one, and a cuddly one for sure!
But people would tell me I babied him too much. That I was letting him be a mama’s boy. One neighbor dad came up to Golfer (when he was 4) and demanded to know, “Are you a MAN or are you a WIMP?”. Golfer hightailed it behind my legs and peeked out. “I’m a wimp…” he whispered. I won’t deny that I was worried and afraid that Golfer would be so incapacitated by these two qualities, that he’d live in fear the rest of his life. And I was conscious that people around me blamed me for fostering them and making them worse because I let him come and touch my knee/hide behind my legs/cuddle in my ‘spider free’ bed.
I tried, briefly, to make him face his fears. You know, kind of like dropping a kid off into the deep end to teach them to swim. But really, it never felt right to purposely create anxiety in my sweet little boy just to teach him a lesson. And I never felt right making light of his fears, or not respecting them. So I felt torn between feeling like I was enabling them vs. feeling like I was tormenting him.
Around the time of unschooling, as I started reading more about empowering kids to take charge of their own lives, I let go of a lot of the fear for the future…since who can tell what will or won’t happen. I changed my tone from “Golfer, why are you scared of such a little spider?!” or “Golfer, just go say hi! It’s not hard!” to “I know you’re scared of that spider right now, maybe tomorrow he won’t look so scary” and “You can hang out with me, let’s both go over while I say Hi!”. I tried to respect his aversion to people and spiders without changing our routine…we still faced people and spiders, and I tried not to make a big deal about what a big deal they were to him. I just let him see by example how to deal with both. (which meant, ironically, facing my fear of spiders so he would see that I wasn’t afraid of spiders…)
Fast forward to the last little while, and I realized that a few milestones have been reached in both their lives. I finally opened up a garbage bag that I’d stuffed full of Sassy’s special stuffed animals from home way back in February. And what did I find? Her pink and purple blankies! I hadn’t even noticed she didn’t have them…and neither did she. !!! 5 years of constant companionship now broken by a crazy moving experience and a grown up little girl.
And Golfer is quickly assimilating into So. Cal. culture by bringing a basketball around with him everywhere he goes. There are pickup games on every street corner, practically. Golfer paid attention when Hubby modeled for him how dudes get themselves playing on street teams…even when they don’t know the other people…and even though prior to now he’d never wanted to make those moves himself…well, now he’s right in the mix. Using the dude lingo to be a baller on teams full of people he doesn’t know. Even people who are years older than he is! All of a sudden, his people phobia is almost gone, and I hardly noticed the shift. He just….shifted. Developed. Grew!
In a final milestone, when we were back in Colorado, Golfer went to a place called The Butterfly Pavillion and held a tarantula. A freaking tarantula!!!!!! On his hand!!!!!! While it was still alive and crawling around!!!!! I’d have pictures of it, but he did it when I was in another exhibit, letting butterflies land all over me. I asked him why he’d do it, and he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Today, it didn’t seem so scary!”. Or maybe it was more like, “Today, I watched Sassy hold one and I’m 5 years older so I couldn’t let her show me up!” Whatever the case…just like that, no more spider problem.
Knowing how these (good) attachments and (horrible) fears slowly dwindled in the course of my kids lives, I’m glad I held back and let them ebb and flow in the lives of my kids without asserting my will into it. I’d have wanted Sassy to give up the blankies quicker than she did, but when she was ready, then she did it herself without tears or trauma. I’d wished Golfer could man up and stop being so afraid of stuff. I feel bad for the times I tried to guilt, humiliate, or downplay his feelings to try and get him to toughen up. Because when he was ready to face up to things, then he did. My fears that what was true today would be true for the future just didn’t hold water, and I’m glad I let them go a while ago. What’s true today is true today, but I try to treat it as if it may be totally different tomorrow. And sometimes it really is!