Anxiety & Hope

Every morning, I have the luxury of being the one to drop my daughter, Lou, off at Kindergarten.  We wait for the doors to open and she heads on in.  Not prior to giving me a big hug, a smile, and a kiss goodbye.  I tell her, everyday, to “have fun, be a good friend, and learn a lot.”  She smiled at me.  Some days she tells me, “Mommy, I won’t learn a lot.  Kindergarten is boring.”  Oh, what a problem to have.  I guess this being her 4th year of school, three years in preschool, has made Kindergarten boring.  Experience has told me, she will thank me when she gets older.  However, I’m digressing from the reason I chose to write about this….

Every morning I watch the interaction of another mother, and her son, who was also a Kindergartner.  Over the course of the year their interaction has tugged at my heart strings.  One recent day more so than normal.

You see, from my layman’s perspective, but based on my personal experience perspective, is that this little boy suffers from separation anxiety.  Or, an anxiety of some sort.  Most mornings one of the staff from the school comes out and spends time with the mom and the little boy, and then the boy and the staff person head into school.  This morning something about the schedule must have been different, as the mom was all on her own.  The Kindergarten doors opened and my little Lou headed into school.  This little boy started screaming and crying, hitting and kicking.  His mom had to pick him up and carry him into the doors.  All the while, telling her younger son, probably about 3 years old, to follow her into the school.  Tears filled my eyes as the flashbacks hit and I walked away….

If that mother is anything like me, she questions what she has done wrong.  She questions what she could have done or can do differently.  If she’s anything like me she even questions, why me, why my son?  If she’s anything like me, she prays for help and patience.

My Coco was the same way in Kindergarten.  Almost.  His anxiety didn’t last into March of the school year.  At least not the kicking, screaming, hitting, and crying.  Those things stopped about 2-3 weeks into the school year.  But the anxiety, I still see glimpses of it every now and then.  Although, he manages it very well.

I first was witness to Coco’s anxiety issues at the age of 4 1/2.  It was at a soccer game.  Coco had played t-ball in the Spring.  A boy on his team was going to play soccer in the summer and Coco decided to play also.  The first game Coco “freaked out”.  That’s what I called it at the time.  A freak out.  He wouldn’t go out on the field, and he wouldn’t let go of my leg, my arm, my body.  I didn’t understand.  Not in the least.  I love people and new things.  I would talk to a tree.  Play with it, if it would let me.  What is “wrong” with this little boy!?!  I can admit, in a very non-prideful way, that I did not react well, nor, was I a very good mom to my son.  I tried to pry Coco off of me.  I told him to knock it off.  That he was embarrassing me.  Which, honestly, at the time, he was.  Really though, I was embarrassing him.  I tried to explain to Coco that he knew “R”, the boy he was playing with, from t-ball.  Coco tried to explain to me that he didn’t know how to play soccer, and that he didn’t know his coach.  I, quite simply, didn’t understand.

Fast forward….he is still 4 1/2 and in daycare.  His daycare lady returned to school part time.  As a result, her younger sister started watching the kids for her off and on.  Coco had meltdowns.  He would kick and scream and cry about having to go to daycare.  A daycare he used to LOVE to attend.  A handful of times I dropped him off at daycare only to have to turn around and go get him and bring him back home.  He would lay on the ground in front of her front door and kick the door and cry and scream.  It was horrible.  For all of us.  I didn’t know how to handle this.  And, honestly, I had no idea what was wrong with my Coco or what was causing him to act this way.  No way did I think that he had anxiety.

Fast forward again.  Coco is now 5 and starting Kindergarten.  I must have anticipated that Kindergarten would be difficult on him as I asked permission of the Principal of his school to visit prior to the end of the school year, prior to Coco starting school.  Allow Coco the opportunity to see the classroom and so I could take some pictures of him there.  We met one of the teachers, and, I took tons of pictures.  Him in the classroom, sitting at a table, on the rug on the floor, pictures of the room, pictures of Coco in the library, in the cafeteria, in the gym.  We then made a book out of it.  A fun book.  Different colors of construction paper, with a picture glued to each page.  Coco helped me to write the words.  “Here is Coco having fun reading a book in the library.”  “Look, this is where Coco will eat lunch!”

I’m not certain if the book helped or not.  It is one of those “exercises” whose benefits are difficult to ascertain.  School started for Coco on a Wednesday.  He was apprehensive, however, he did OK.  He went in with the rest of his classmates.  Thursday doesn’t stick out in my mind.  However, things must have been getting worse, as Friday, I stood outside the school, after Coco walked in, and I cried and talked with a few of the other moms.  That was until I felt a body lurch itself at me.  I turned around and my Coco was holding onto me for dear life.  He was followed by a very surprised looking staff person from the school.

It turns out Coco was being walked around the inside of the school with the School Psychologist to try and calm him down.  Well, when Coco saw me standing outside he made a bee line for outside.  And, no amount of encouragement, discussion, persuading, was going to get him back into that school.  So, in Lou and I went to class with him.  It turns out his classmates were all getting ready to go to a school assembly.  His teacher stood there, looking rather exasperated with him.  The School Psychologist made the negotiation with Coco that if he would stay for the first half of Kindergarten (he went to Kindergarten Enrichment every day, meaning a full day of school), that I could come pick him up and he only had to stay for half the day.  That seemed to appease my Coco.  But, he still wouldn’t go to the assembly.  That is, unless Lou and I went too.  So, off we went with him and the School Psychologist, and his classmates to the assembly.

We sat in the back of the gym for the assembly.  Lou was in a stroller, however, walking also.  Every time she would get up and walk towards the rear door of the gym, I would of course have to follow her.  Which meant, you guessed it, Coco followed also.  He was like a hawk, watching his prey.  He was not going to let us out of his sight.  The assembly ended, and, Coco did not want to go back to class.  The outcome was not pretty.  Four teachers, yes four, restrained my Coco while Lou and I left the gymnasium and the school.  I cried the entire walk back home.  The entire day until I picked him up again.  And, I wondered, what did I do wrong?  What could I do differently?  I asked why me?  Why my son?  And, I prayed for patience and help.

Help came in the way of books and reading.  I determined that Coco must have some sort of anxiety.  And so off to the library I went.  I checked out book after book about anxiety.  And, much of what I read, applied to my Coco.  I even found a video, a little old for him, but that would work, that would explain to him what he was feeling – fight or flight – and the need to fight through it.  What I learned from these books is that the most important thing for Coco was to talk about how he was feeling, and, to realize, no matter how difficult, that he had to face his fear and overcome it.  That the more I forced him to do what felt awful to him, and that he would come out on the other side and see that he was OK, the better off he would be in the long run.  So, that is what we started doing.  I cannot tell you how many birthday parties Coco got invited to that he didn’t want to attend.  Or, clubs at school he didn’t want to be a participant in.  Or, friends who would invite him over for playdates, and, his not wanting to go.  Or how often he would say to me, “Mom, you aren’t going to leave me here, are you?!”  Can you hear the panic?  There was a lot of panic.

A friend of mine also brought up a very good point.  Most 5 year old children are what she calls “bobble heads”.  You tell most 5 year olds that they need to go to an assembly, and they simply nod their heads up and down, back and forth, and off they go.  Not my Coco.  My Coco is a very brilliant boy.  His understanding of situations, at a very young age, has always been uncanny.  And the thing is, he understands too much, and too well, for his young age.  That Friday, at school, when he had his melt down, I think much of it had to do with the assembly.  He wanted, no, perhaps he needed to, or, perhaps both, he wanted and needed to know the who, why, what, where, when, and how.  A new situation.  Don’t just tell me to get in line and go.  Explain to me.  Take the time with me.

I have worked a lot with my little boy.  Teaching him the importance of social situations and people.  My son, just like my Lou, found Kindergarten to be very boring.  I reminded him that everyone has something to learn.  For some, it is their alphabet, others, it is to count, others yet to read.  Coco, he was there to learn about people.  I told him I didn’t care if he learned a single thing at school.  However, I expected him, everyday, to talk to a new kid at school.  Even if was simply to say hi.  He didn’t like that very much.  But I know my son, and, I know he tried very hard to oblige me.

My son still struggles with people from time to time.  It’s taken him a long time to find kids he fits in with.  Kids he wants to spend time with.  Still, to this day, we will be walking off the playground at the end of the school day, and someone will say, “Bye Coco.”  Sometimes he says bye back, and sometimes he doesn’t.  When he doesn’t, I remind him how rude that is.  When he doesn’t, it usually is because it isn’t someone with whom he relates.  He told me a story just the other day about a girl he was in class with last year who came up to him last week and said, “You are going to have to have braces aren’t you?”  I looked at him and said, because I knew the answer, “You didn’t respond to her did you?  You didn’t say a single thing.”  Coco’s response, “No, Mom, I ignored her and walked away.  It was weird of her to ask me that.”  Outloud chuckle from this mom.

Allow me to clarify and say that my son, although brilliant, and a little socially awkward, is a wonderful kid with a very bright future.  He is slowly finding kids that can intellectually hang with him, and kids that love sports as much as he does that he also relates with.  It is quite the blessing.  Fortunately, despite my Coco’s idiosyncrasies, he is a very popular kid at school.  Kids look up to him for his intelligence and his athleticism.

We’ve come a long way from that scared little boy in Kindergarten.  He is now in tons of clubs at school, is viewed as a leader by his teachers and peers, and, most importantly of all, he is enjoying it all!!

To that mom, who struggled with her own son, I just want to say that there is hope.  Hang in there.  Be strong, be tough.  I know it’s hard.  But what you are doing will make the difference in your son’s life.  And, perhaps, one of these days, I’ll get up the courage to introduce myself and tell you that I understand, I empathize, and it does get better.  My Coco is living proof….

Originally Written 19Mar15

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