Of Separation Anxiety

We just finished up a very lovely Spring Break week. I pulled out all my best "fun mommy" tricks. We went to the park, to the zoo, to the grandparents, to the kids' favorite restaurant. We watched movies and ate bowls of popcorn. We played and read books and stayed up late and slept in and traveled and ate junk food and played some more. It was a glorious week, but it had to end sometime.

I was dreading Monday with its return to schedule and school more than my kids were.

Well, maybe not more than the kids.

Monday morning, as I pulled up in front of the school to drop Dee and Jeigh off, it was revealed to me just how much my son wasn't ready for the new week to start. Both the kids had complained of phantom stomach aches during the morning's preparation hoping to delay the end of Spring Break just a little longer, but Jeigh spotted her friends near the school and happily hopped out of the van to greet them along with the new week.

In contrast, Dee shriveled even farther into the back of the van. He whined, "I don't wanna go, Mama. I don't wanna!"

And then he began to cry.

He sobbed as he told me he didn't have any friends. That he was scared. That kids teased him.

His tears thickened as he begged to go back home.

It was terrible. What was I to do? I remember grade school. Kids do tease. It is scary. There were times I felt like I didn't have a friend in the entire place.

I wanted to shut the van door and glide off into the sunset, sheltering him from the big bad school and world. It was what I wanted to do, but that didn't seem right. If I let him go home today what was going to happen tomorrow? And the day after that??

I knew this was something my little son had to do. But try telling him that.

As I did try his crying only increased. He refused to get out of the van. I got out and walked around, afraid that I would have to physically remove him from the vehicle. Afraid of being manhandled he jumped out himself, but then stood on the sidewalk with huge, slushy, wet tears rolling off his red cheeks.

This was tragic. There couldn't be anything harder to parenting than this, could there?

I tried to lovingly talk to him and convince him that he needed to be in school, that it was the law, that it would be okay, that he could call me if it wasn't. But love and logic and talk were not cutting it.

Eventually I had to get tough. Woodenly, I pried his clinging arms off of my legs, firmly told him to go to his class, and walked away. He cried out after me but I kept walking. I got in the van and drove out of the school parking lot. As I watched him from my rear view mirror, standing there, falling apart on the public school sidewalk, I felt my heart shattering.

Did I just do the right thing? This can't be right. If it was "right", would it hurt this much?

I had abandoned my little son to the world and to himself. I am his Mommy. I am his protector. His big person. His guardian. And I just left him.

What have I done?

I circled around and parked in front of the school where he couldn't see me, but I could watch him. He stood by his line, but hiding behind a tree around the corner from his classroom door. He was still crying, intermittently peeking to see what his class line was doing. I imagined him pondering what to do, whether to obey his mom and follow his peers to class, or to make a break for it.

I admit, I sat in the van, watching him, pondering myself. Do I let him be a big boy and learn a life lesson or do I sweep in and rescue him?

He made the decision for both of us as he followed his class into the building, but I drove away reeling from the entire plight.

Nothing felt "right".

The entire morning I fretted about him. Was he crying in class? Were the kids really being mean to him? Was my happy little son as friendless as he claimed to be? Or was this just a case of too much fun during Spring Break and the difficulty of his dad leaving town again?

It was so difficult to know. And I thought labor and delivery was the hard part of parenting. Nobody warned me about how insanely grievous it would be to drive away from your distraught first grader.

In an effort to make his day a little brighter and more positive, as well as to allay my own worries by seeing how he was faring, I picked up some McDonald's Happy Meals (one of his favorite treats) and surprised him at lunch time. He ran to me with a huge smile and an even bigger hug.

For all his tears, for all my heart break...he was perfectly fine.

He was so fine that he could hardly acknowledge my presence in the lunchroom as he happily chatted with his buddies (no friends, huh?). After about 5 or 10 minutes he asked if he could go to recess, leaving behind half of a Happy Meal and a mother who was wondering if she had wasted the energy, money, and gray hair on him.

But then I saw a grandmother who had the same idea I had. She munched quietly on her McDonald's while her granddaughter jabbered at her friends.

Oh. So my son is normal then? Oh good.

One day I want to speak with him about this day. I want him to understand how traumatic it was to see my little son so sick with worry and fear. How agonizing it was to do something so opposite and repulsive to my motherhood as physically pry his arms off of me. How it took all my might not to cry my own tears as I denied my own desires and abandoned him there.

I want to ask his forgiveness for walking away in his apparent moment of need, but I also want him to know that I did it hoping to make him a stronger man. I can only imagine that this experience is a small stepping stone to other moments that will be like it. Maybe even more grievous and grey than this "trivial" one. In hindsight it is rather trivial, even though it felt so monstrous yesterday morning. But as I replay the image of my small son standing on the sidewalk all alone in my rear view mirror, I can't imagine anything being as difficult in this life as being a parent.


Jodi said...

Sometimes I want to move my entire family to a cabin in the remote woods and live off the land so I can protect and shelter my kids from all the hurt and heartache they might encounter! Obviously I can't and won't do that (maybe not!) but I agree that it is so hard to be a parent and let them grow up and experience life's lessons. Both my in laws and my own parents tell me it only gets harder as they get older! Ugg!!!

And I loved your "embarrassing" stories - you should send those in to Readers Digest! :)

Creating Sarah said...

Oh, this made me just want to hug his little picture! What a touching story and I love your perspective. You are a good mommy and he will grow to be a good and strong man. =)

Lisa Thomas said...

You are an amazing mom. What a great story. Thanks for being the tough/softy mom.


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