Monday, April 7, 2008

My Baby, She's Scared

I am not what you might call a soft, sensitive type.

It is probably because my mother was a bit of a hard ass, but I do not have a lot of space for fear in my life and I do not tolerate it well in other people. Every time I see my cousin, she reminds me of the time I berated her until she jumped off the high dive at the pool when we were 6 and 7. I guess I called her a wimp and called her names until she jumped. Yeah. I was a nice kid. And although I do not remember the particulars, that sounds about like me. I beat my friend's knuckles until she learned to read and could never sit long enough to help my sister with her homework (or anyone else for that matter). Suffice it to say that supportive guidance and patience are not my strong points as a person or as a mother.

Until yesterday, we had done very little to push Sam and for the most part, she has shown zero stranger anxiety (I have a low tolerance for shyness as well) or fear of any kind. And then we took her to the pool. She cried. She held on to me and screamed if I even attempted any fancy movement like bobbing up and down. She refused to go to her Dad. She made a very strange pucker face that only one other child I know make and I am not fond of that child.

One part of me freaked out. What does this fear mean? My family does not do shyness. No one in my family is scared of the water. And no one in my family makes that pucker face. I have always firmly believed that life is 100 percent about the risks we take and if I have a child who is afraid to take risks, will she live a mediocre life? Needless to say, I was thinking pretty far ahead.

Then I took a deep breath. I held her gently and let her cling to me. She started to crack a smile when R went under. We splashed her a little and allowed her to get used to the water on her own. Up until this, my attitude has always been sink or swim, but I found some patience in myself. Believe me, no one was as surprised as I.

Granted, I fully intend to take her to the pool once a week until she is happy in the water. And granted I also stressed for hours afterwards about having a fearful, risk averse child and what that means for her life. But I also was proud of myself for not allowing my own weakness (that is to say, my fear of weakness) make the afternoon anymore unpleasant for the bean than it already was.

This motherhood thing is pretty insane. It exploits all the areas where we are the most deficient and while I hardly expect to change completely, I can at least try to allow my baby to be her own person without trying to label it or use it to make predictions about her future. She can be scared of things. Believe me when I tell you, for me, this idea is revolutionary.

Still, we will be back in the pool next Sun. night. And each week following until she likes it. Or, as my mother's favorite motto always went: Feel the fear and do it anyway. Amen.

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Lis Garrett said...

I have a feeling you would despise me in real life! I am extremely shy, although I recognize this and make a point to extend beyond my comfort zone. I remember when I was about 8 and my dad took us all for ice cream. He told me I would have to order for myself or I wouldn't get any. Guess what? I didn't get any! Had he been a little more supportive at that moment instead of a jerk, I probably would have spoken up. But he is a very intimidating person, and I was terrified of the entire situation. Having to deal with my daughter's bully and my son's educational needs has stretched my limits. People are scared of different things for different reasons, and it can take a lot of nurturing and patience to help them overcome their fears. Bridget wouldn't go in the nursery at church without me until just a few months ago. It wasn't until she started preschool and found out she was okay without me that she realized she could also have fun in my absence.

Like you said, you just have to keep doing what makes you uncomfortable until you can overcome your fear.

Kristi said...

I tend to be pretty fearless too, and it's hard for me to delve into my daughter's mind to understand why something so innocuous makes her freak out. As a new mom (and I definitely still consider myself "new") it's difficult to see my daughter as her own person, as you said, and not as an extension of me. Although she's like me in many ways, there are several in which she is not. What you wrote about is another aspect of motherhood that requires a steep learning that I'm still getting used to myself.