“Do you think T is an anxious kid?”
With zero hesitation Z replied, “Yes.”
I asked the question months ago, but the dread I felt when I heard his answer, the lightheadedness and tingling in my fingers feels fresh. Immediately I disagreed with him. And then something happened, I don’t remember what, but one of the millions of things that interrups any conversation we try to have now that we have two kids-one of them fell down, they started fighting, we heard a sound that meant trouble, we didn’t hear a sound which meant trouble, something happened and the conversation ended.
I mean the conversation ended between the two of us. It has continued nonstop in my head ever since. When I was pregnant with T I thought a lot about if it was appropriate for someone who suffers from a mental illness to have a kid. What if I was a shit mom because of my crazy? What if I passed my crazy on along with my blue eyes and tiny feet? How could I take the chance of saddling my illness on an innocent baby?
To us T was perfection when he was born. As his personality developed over the last few years we only fell more in love with him. He was an early talker, so we thought he was brilliant. His fine motor skills were off the charts-he could use a toy chisel and mallet when he was 18 months. When he started school after he turned two there wasn’t a single day of crying during drop off. He is happy and loves life and is eager to learn.
I’m not trying to sell him as the perfect child. His gross motor skills have never been great-he was a late walker and he fell down a lot. He wasn’t much of a climber or runner. He certainly has never been an angel. Since he started to smile there was something mischievous rather than sweet about him. But most of all he seems like a regular kid.
So he gets frightened easily. What toddler doesn’t? During his first hair cut he sat perfectly still in the chair, only his eyes following the woman who was trimming. He was trying not to cry the whole time. His first trip to the dentist was a disaster. The second trip a week ago was not much better. He is scared at night time. New things are overwhelming to him. He only likes certain foods-it took us a year to convince him to try chocolate ice cream–chocolate ice cream for fucks sake!
Isn’t all that stuff normal? Yes, we look at him and see a little genius because he is our child. He isn’t a genius. He is healthy and he is a regular kid. He is exactly what we hoped for.
Back to that dentist’s appointment last week. It was terrible to watch his fear. The latex gloves freaked him out, he kept begging the hygienist not to touch his face with them. He was frightened by the polisher, by the chair, even the napkin she tried to clip around his neck. He shook and wept and held his hands over his mouth. I encouraged him and tried to calm him down, but I was holding back tears myself. He was so anxious. And in my head the thought “Zeke was right” played in a loop.
The stillness that accompanies his fear cuts to the quick.
So new situations are hard for him. So he is particular and craves the familiar. So he is a little bit of an anxious kid. It doesn’t mean he will develop an anxiety disorder.
But when I was his age could one tell that mental illness would be a defining feature of my life?
We don’t know what he will become. We don’t know if the screwed up wiring in my brain was passed down to him. All we can do is wait and see. I worry that I will see a boogieman around every corner. That even if he is normal I’ll be convinced he has a problem. That my cloying attention will create anxiety that would be absent if I wasn’t around. That he will be unwell and it will be all my fault. That being my child will ruin him.
Here is what I do know. I do not want him to be like me. This morning I had a therapy session. Things are not going well in anxiety land right now. I can’t tell if the new meds are working, or if they are making things worse. I’m taking more chill pills than I have in months. I’m exhausted. From the meds? From pretending I am normal every time I leave the house? I feel defeated and desperate and scared.
My therapist pointed out that in the not too distant past I couldn’t even imagine taking a class. And now I’ve finished one and am in the middle of another. At first I felt so proud of myself. After the session that feeling quickly faded as I thought about T. Because how pathetic is it to celebrate doing something most function adults could do without a second thought? Why should I get a pat on the back from my shrink for acting like a grown up? How sad is it that I have to force myself to engage with the real world? I still find an excuse every time Z suggests I take the boys to the zoo or the museum or the playground. The boys are paying the price for my illness.
Worse than all that is the idea that T might be the same as me. He might hate himself. He might be too scared to engage. He might feel worthless and pathetic. My sweet boy. My perfect and frustrating and amazing little man. How do I protect him from becoming me? How do I help him? How do I not fuck him up?
Even when he is scared he is cute as hell.
I think the a big part of the answer to raising these kids is Alien Daddy here. I don’t know what any of us would do without him.