Brave. Not a word I would have used to describe my oldest daughter only six months ago. With a mental disposition much like me, I feared she would follow in my anxiety-laced footsteps. Her fear made me fearful. My nerves made her nervous. We’re a sometimes-challenging duo, her and I.
You see, I don’t want her to be like me. I want her to run through the sprinklers of life instead of skirting the edges. I want her to be Ria. I want her to live with less fear, but I know she’ll never be completely free of anxiety’s bonds. Or will she? Will she break free of the walls within own mind…and mine? She might. She just might.
Kindergarten has flipped a switch, rewritten the script. It’s given her the structure she needs. The structure I could never give her at home because let me tell you, one squirrel chaser raising another is often a disaster. Her head’s in the clouds, and I’m only able to look her in the eye because I’m right up there with her. How do we get down from here?
That’s where my husband comes in. His feet planted firmly on the ground (sometimes partially buried), he’s able to grab our ankles and give us the stability we need. Sometimes, we’re even able to lift him up for a different view of this crazy world. And all the while, we’ve worked together as parents, he and I. Where I worried and stressed and cried at night over the fate of our darling daughter, he was my calm. He didn’t join my “freak out” parade, but didn’t discredit it either. We knew our daughter needed help. For her sake, and ours. The extreme tantrums, the scratching at her own skin until it bled, the crying which spilled from her eyes to mine, it was all…too much. She was miserable, and so were we.
We went to a therapist. I talked about our struggles online. Other parents assured me that I was doing the right thing, they’d been there before, and yet others told me any public revelation of mental illness would scar my daughter for life. Guess what? She already has scars. On her chest from the time she dug her nails in so hard, she bled. And blood poured from my broken heart when I saw it. Just reliving the story brings fresh tears to my eyes. And what caused her so much grief and sorrow that she would harm herself in this way? I’d told her she couldn’t go to the park with no pants on. I wrote about it here. It sounds funny. It was not. She was two years old.
And here we are, in a place where I no longer fear the sound of her footsteps on the stairs in the morning. To a place where I can go about my day with relative confidence that she won’t completely lose it when plans are changed, her socks don’t quite fit right, or her granola bar broke in half when she was opening the package. I’ve always, always, always loved my daughter. But there have been many days when I didn’t like her. That’s hard. Hard for me to admit, and harder, I’m sure, for her to endure. Because while I never told her these words, she had to feel it when I bristled at the way she’d stiffen her body and widen her eyes wild right before a maelstrom was about to begin. If a “gentle answer turns away wrath,” my response invited it.
We fought her, and then, we fought for her. We sought resources, read books, and attacked the problem, not the person. Anxiety was the biggest factor, followed by frustration. Parts of her beautiful mind work so quickly and are so complex that they’re at odds with the other parts of her brain that remind her she’s only small. Her thoughts are big, but she is not.
Only now, she’s getting bigger. Bigger than the little girl with blonde ringlets who screamed and flung herself down the stairs in her pink ballet costume on a cold day in April when mommy wouldn’t let her go to the park. Bigger than the little girl who cried out and dove onto the grass in front of her daycare and dug up chunks of dirt with her fingernails because mommy picked her up earlier than normal. Bigger than the little girl who gave me a fat, bloody lip and threw rocks in the driveway of the hairdresser because mommy made her leave for bad behavior.
She’s bigger. And braver, getting braver. She stood beside me on the inside of the storm door this morning, awaiting her bus with giddy anticipation. She’s been riding it home every day, but until this morning, I hadn’t let her ride it to school. It was too early. Too much. Too soon. But I was wrong. She was ready.
Barely after 7 a.m. and the wind blew strong. The sun was fighting the horizon, but dark clouds kept it hidden. Spritzing rain froze your face when you poked your head out the door.
“Here comes your bus, are you ready?”
I grabbed her still small hand in mine, and we ran down the driveway. Cold ripped through my sweatpants and fleece jacket, my bare feet exposed in flip-flops not yet put away from the summer. I cursed the blasting wind. She giggled. Giggled and ran in her little stiff legged way. The wet, the dark, the cold were lit up with her fire. I released her as the bus squeaked to a full stop, flashing red lights piercing the blackness of early morning. She went on, and I turned back, a warm wetness mixing with the cold water on my face. I cried. Big, fat, happy tears.
She’s becoming who I never thought she’d be. Hallelujah.