Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fear Itself

I've been thinking a lot about Owen. So much is happening around him lately, and he seems to be growing, mentally and physically, faster than is comfortable for me.

The first thing is his anxiety, his fear of fear...and that's exactly what it is. He cannot stand sudden noises and falls apart completely--completely--when he knows he might encounter one. But it's not the noise that undoes him; it's his anticipation of the noise. Once the noise happens, he calms down, even as he's hearing it, because he doesn't have to wait and wonder when it's coming anymore.

The best example is the coffee maker, which is currently the sorest subject in our house. Every morning he hops on my bed to wake me up. First he tells me the time (usually 7:30 or something close), then he says, "Mommy, please don't make coffee. Please." Our coffee maker beeps when the coffee is ready and then again 2 hours later, just before it shuts itself off. Owen cannot tolerate the suspense of not knowing exactly when this beep is coming, and his fear seems to be escalating. This morning, in a gesture not unlike an environmentalist trying to save a tree by perching in its branches, Owen woke me up, then ran into the kitchen and camped out in front of the coffee maker, trying to make it impossible for me to reach around him to make the coffee. When I tried to pull Mr. Coffee toward me, he shoved Mr. Coffee back against the wall. When I pushed the little button to set the brew to "strong," he pushed it to turn it off. Finally, I had to carry him back into his room and tuck him back into bed. "I'll come get you after it beeps," I told him. He told me to turn on the fan. The fan drowns out all outside noise.

You might wonder why I choose to torture my child by subjecting him to the horror of the unpredictable Mr. Coffee beep every morning rather than getting a different coffee maker or giving up coffee all together, and I'll tell you why. Because if I shaped my life around Owen's anxiety, I also would not be able to do laundry (our dryer beeps when it's finished), receive phone calls (he will not allow he phone within 20 feet of him), listen to CD's in the car (as it is I have to turn the radio all the way down before I start the car, then turn it up gradually, oh so gradually, until we can hear it), bake anything in the oven that requires timing, watch Family Feud, and so on. And trust me, the list goes on. And on.

So we've called a child psychologist, a remedy that I would not default to, but after realizing that fear is limiting Owen's joy, we decided we needed help to get him past it. I was finally convinced that we needed help the day Owen told me he didn't want to go to a good friend's house anymore because they have a mantel clock that chimes the quarter hours. And there's nothing that boy loves more than a play date.

He starts Kindergarten in July, and I can imagine the conversation we'll have after his first day:

Owen: "Mommy, they have a bell."
Me (trying to be nonchalant): "They do?"
Owen: Yeah. It rings when it's lunch time and when it's time to go home.
Me: Oh. Neat.
Owen: I'm not going back to that new school. I want to stay here and do fun things with you.
Me: Well, you have to go to school, sweetie...

Then the heartbreaking fit will commence. Heartbreaking because I can see that he's really truly scared, and as ridiculous as it seems to me, this fear is so not ridiculous to him, and there's nothing I can do to make him feel better. Thus, the call I have in to the child psychologist. I'm still waiting for her to call back.

The whole starting Kindergarten issue is, I see now, another post. But really both issues come down to the same realization: he now has--and will continue to have--problems that are bigger than me. For the first time, something is wrong that I alone cannot fix. And thinking of him starting school, stepping further away from us and deeper into the influence of the outside world, has made me realize that his life will only become more and more complex. And I won't always be able to pull him out of the chaos.

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