My Anxious Child is Learning to Soar

Shannon Day
Written by Shannon Day

We’re at Epcot waiting in line to go on the ride, Soarin’ Around the World. Soon we’ll be strapping ourselves in and, with the help of flight motion simulation and some huge IMAX visuals, we’ll get to spend a few precious moments flying around the globe.

You and your two big sisters have been looking forward to this experience since we watched a video of Soarin’ on YouTube. But now that we’re here those pesky uncertainties have crept in and you’re starting to worry.

“Do I have to do it, Mom?” you ask, nervously.

“You’ll love it!”  I say, giving your shoulders a reassuring squeeze.

“But, is it scary?” you ask.

“No. It’s just cool, not scary,” I say.

You exhale.

We wait twenty minutes longer and you ask more questions, though I don’t have all the answers. I tell you you’ll be fine and that sometimes we just have to take a chance.

“Let’s think of it like a surprise,” I tell you.

You place your little hand in mine and I feel you relax.

I can’t help but note how familiar this conversation is. We’ve gone through these motions on many occasions. When you are unsure about something, especially something new, you worry. The unknown feels scary for you so you fret and convince yourself you don’t want to (or can’t) do it.

As the youngest of our family, you are content with — and protective of — your role as “the baby.” One time, a few years ago, you made your stance on further procreation pretty damn clear. I’d eaten a big lunch that day and your sister was eyeing, and then poking at, my stomach.

“Are you having another baby, Mom?” she’d asked, hopefully.

(Thanks, kid!)

You overheard the question and before I could answer you came running from your room, down the hallway, and into mine.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”  you cried.

I laughed and assured you it was just a burger and you asked if you could please always be the baby of our family.

Since that was the plan already, I agreed.

As the baby, you’ve been well taken care of; perhaps too much so. And there is most certainly a connection between this and the fact that you often doubt your ability to do things for yourself. I’m pretty sure this is why you’ve struggled a bit with fear and worry over the years. Always with someone by your side; a helpful sister, a caring friend, your dad or myself, you weren’t given too many chances to shine on your own.

And that whirling nervousness inside you– the feeling you’ve come to accept instead of fear– it used to have more power than it does these days. You used to let that anxious whirlwind hold you back.

It terrified you in those first few weeks of kindergarten when you couldn’t reach your cubby or when you struggled with the zipper on your coat. It made you cry on Games Days at school, when the rules seemed complicated and you felt too small to play.

That whirlwind in your stomach used to bring you to tears a lot; it still does sometimes. It used to leave you frozen– incapable of moving– in need of rescue by a friend, a teacher, your sisters, your mom or your dad.

That whirlwind stopped you from taking dance classes, and it kept you next to me at parties when the other kids were playing. It had you saying: “NO THANKS!” to summer soccer, and it made playdates at other people’s houses feel hard to do.

But lately, you’ve been owning your fear.

Lately, you’ve been saying: “Fear, I can feel you but I won’t let you stop me!”

You amazed me a few months ago when you went indoor rock climbing with your sisters and cousins, for the first time. You cried quietly while listening to the man as he explained the rules; worrying that you’d forget something and that maybe it would be too hard for you to do. Your sisters rubbed your back while I stood watching from a distance. I was proud of you for not quitting in that moment, by the way.

That day, you left your fear on the padded mats below and you climbed until it couldn’t reach you anymore. You didn’t stop climbing for the entire hour and not only that, you reached the top and pushed the button right up near the ceiling.

You felt like the Queen of the World up there. And, as you repelled yourself back down; clearly proud of your accomplishments, that whirlwind felt your power.

That whirlwind of fear, worry, and uncertainty knew you were in charge this time.

And, though you still like to have answers and sometimes you worry, you are the boss of that whirlwind now.

I watch you face it each week when it’s time for dance class.

You take charge of it each time you stand to speak in front of your entire school, during assemblies or take part in (almost) all the activities on Games Days.

Last weekend, that whirlwind barely made a rumble when you went for your first sleepover at a friend’s house and, quite simply, had an awesome time.

You are starting to see how brave you are and I am so proud of you.

And now, the ride has begun and you’re ready for it. You let go of my hand and turn to me; eyes glistening with the thrill of the unknowns to come. You force your mouth into a giant, toothy grin and we’re off!

Through the clouds we soar, over the Swiss mountains and the pyramids of Egypt, high above the Eiffel tower and then deep down into Niagara Falls. We can almost feel the water rushing onto our feet. And, in this moment, I know. I know that you, my brave girl, will someday take on the world!

About the author

Shannon Day

Shannon Day

Shannon Day is co-author of Martinis & Motherhood: Tales of Wonder, Woe & WTF?! (a funny and heartwarming book & martini guide for moms). She is a freelance writer and blogger whose words and wit can be found at several online sites, including her own: Martinis & Motherhood. Get in touch with Shannon via Facebook or Twitter.

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4 Comments

  • Shannon,
    Thank you for writing this and putting it so eloquently! I feel and have lived every struggle you write about in this article. 47 years of challenging myself to overcome anxiety … still a challenge. Your daughters are awesome and will support each other always.. and love each other so much for that support!

  • I have witnessed my 12-year-old son overcome so many of his early fears, and yet I still let my own anxiety rule when he stalls. It’s tough when it runs in the family! I’ve found that using my behavior as a model helps both of us in the long run, and I know that if he sees me freak out it could be a setback for him.

    • Yes! Knowing the kids are watching helps keep us in check yet at the same time we are human and therefore bound to slip up every once in a while. And, I agree with you that kids learn by our modeling of behavior! A few weeks ago I was incredibly nervous about a phone interview I had lined up. I really dreaded it (I have some kind of deep-rooted fears that stem back to university journalism when I froze on live radio). I fretted for the hours leading up to my little phone interview and then… it came and went in 5 minutes. It wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t horrible either. I exhaled and carried on with the day.The kids were at school the whole time so they didn’t need to know anything about it at all BUT I decided to share it with them as it was an example of me overcoming a fear. Everyone has anxieties and fears, some people more so than others and I feel like just knowing “we all have them” can help kids face them more bravely. Thanks for reading, Nancy!
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