“I have to go bathroom.”
Trying to speak without actually waking up, I mumbled, “Ok, so go.”
Cue the whining.
“I caaaaan’t. I’m afraaaaaid of the bathroom by myseeeeelf, I want-“
“Vincent, you can’t spend your whole life being afraid of everything!!!!”
Maybe it was the way I flew up off my pillow. Or my bedhead. Or maybe it was my wide, blood-shot eyes. Regardless, based on his terror-stricken face, he must have thought he was staring at Cruella DeVille.
Great job, Mom of the Year.
In my defense, this wasn’t just about a ½ finished 2nd floor bathroom (which is creepy-looking, but when you have to go, you have to go), or the fact that I’d only gotten 4 hours of sleep. This is everyday life. My poor kid inherited two things from his mama- unruly red hair and soul-sucking, ever-present anxiety.
That anxiety was definitely present yesterday, when the YMCA camp that promised to be 8 hours of fun turned into a disaster. Vince stood frozen with eyes as wide as saucers, tears running down his cheeks, and his fists clenched around his little backpack as I guiltily backed out of the gym. I spent all day praying that their promise of “he’ll be fine in 10 minutes!” would come to fruition. Alas, at dinner I was served the unedited version of the horrors to which he was subjected.
The pool was too cold; he preferred swimmies but they only had life jackets; and there were too many kids splashing around. So he sat on a bench and watched everyone swim.
His chair in the classroom was too close to the wall, and they had run out of the pumpkin coloring page that he wanted to color, so he sat quietly with his arms and legs folded up in front of him.
The playground equipment he wanted to use was for “big kids,” and the swings he wanted to swing on were broken, so he didn’t enjoy the playground.
What I heard, loud and clear, between all these words, was “Mommy, it was an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, and I was terrified.”
This has been an ongoing struggle for us. Swim lessons looked very promising for the first 12 minutes, until his whole body tensed up and he started to hyperventilate. Birthday parties always go smoothly until the party organizer announces that it’s time for all the kids to huddle up- that’s his cue to hide behind my husband until the horror of the group picture has passed. Even family gatherings occasionally require a 20-minute warm-up before he’s comfortable enough to make eye contact.
We were hoping that all the new people and experiences that came along with Kindergarten might excite him. We also held that hope for prek4 and prek3…and prek2…but here we were, sitting on my bed at 6:30 in the morning, holding hands as I begged him to please just try to pee by himself.
As he was still a little shaken by my half-asleep, full-on crazy outburst, I took a deep breath and decided honesty was probably my best bet here.
“Vince, here’s the thing. You’re afraid of the upstairs bathroom; you’re afraid of the YMCA pool; you’re afraid to ride your bike. I want you to learn lots of things, and see lots of places, and one day fall in love, the way Daddy and I did, and do lots of cool stuff, and be happy. But we can’t get to all of those things until we get rid of all these fears. And do you know how we do that?”
“We face them.”
“But the bathroom up here is scary!”
Wait. Fall in love like Daddy and I did….let’s try that angle.
“Let me tell you a story. When Daddy and I were in high school he really wanted me to be his girlfriend, but he was too scared to ask me. So one day he came to my house with 3 pink and white roses and a little card that said “Would you go out with me?” He was still too scared to ask me, but he walked up to my door, held out those roses and waited. And I said yes. And you know what?”
“What?” He was squirming with all the urgency of a 5-year old with a bladder on red alert, but I was already about a mile into Memory Lane.
“If Daddy hadn’t faced his fear, we never would have become boyfriend and girlfriend. We never would have gotten married and had adventures together. We never would have rescued Rocco, and you and Gracie wouldn’t even exist! We wouldn’t have taken all the cool surprise trips we’ve taken, and we wouldn’t have bought this house…ALL of that happened because Daddy faced his fear. And here we are!”
Vince’s bright blue eyes lit up with this realization, and I remembered staring into another set of blue eyes almost 18 years ago. I remembered Pat staring first at me and then at the floor, waiting for my response. I remembered him steadying my hands in his exactly 6 years later as we recited our vows. I remembered his easy laugh after I ordered a ½ pint of Guinness at a Dublin pub. “Who orders a ½ pint in Ireland?!”
I remembered his soft kiss on my forehead as the nurse placed Vince in my arms. I remembered the pure awe in his expression when he took that first look at Gracie and informed me that she was the mirror image of her namesake, my grandmother.
I wished I could go back and tell my 16 year-old self that as soon as she pulled that card out of those flowers, she was going to blink and suddenly be 34 years old, using her life story as an incentive to get her son to pee in a scary toilet.
I squeezed Vince’s hands and said, “Vince, we have this beautiful, amazing life, don’t we?”
“We do, Mommy.”
“Well, that’s all because someone faced his fear. And here we are.”
“Ok….I’ll do it. I’ll go to YMCA today. But first I really gotta pee.”
And so we went.
During most of the 20-minute ride, I heard him softly whispering the mantra I gave him- “I am brave, I am strong….I am brave, I am strong…”
Before we opened the gym door, I looked intently at him and whispered, “What are you, Vincent?”
“I am brave, and I am strong. I’m going to be ok,” he answered proudly.
Unfortunately, the first thing we saw as we walked in was a little boy sobbing into his mother’s shirt as she stood there helplessly.
“I was there yesterday,” I said to her gently. Then I sat next to the little boy and said, “This is my son, Vincent. He was so scared yesterday because he didn’t have anyone to talk to- maybe you guys can help each other out today? I noticed you have a Spiderman shirt- Vince loves Spiderman too!”
The boy turned to Vince and his mother smiled hopefully. I mentally prepared myself to see Vince begin sobbing right along with him, but instead, he reached into his pocket, slowly pulled out his Spiderman sunglasses, and held them out to the boy with a shy smile. My heart grew 3 sizes.
He faced his fear.
And here we are.