Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Bravest Kid I Know

Flashback to one year ago.  J was finishing up preschool.  He wasn't talking to any of his classmates.  He mostly only nodded or shook his head in response to his teachers.  He ALWAYS had a hard time when I dropped him off at school and often when I picked him up.

This picture of him with his teacher, was taken on the very last day of school.  THAT was how comfortable he was in that environment AFTER going there twice a week for nine months.  Not so comfortable at all, really.  And yet, he went every time, and even claimed that he really liked preschool, that it was fun.  "Funner than staying home."

That was the year I realized just how brave J was.  It would have been so much easier for him to just stay home.  For me to have let him just stay home.  He wanted to keep things comfortably the same.  Avoid any scenarios that would cause him anxiety.

But MY goal for him was totally and completely incompatible with that.  I wanted him to grow, develop, and eventually, to become self-sufficient.  So I had to push him forward, no matter how hard it was for either one of us.

And he did make progress during his preschool year.  Inch by inch, he scooted closer to the carpet where they had circle time until he was finally able to join them, sitting shoulder to shoulder with his classmates.  After the first couple of weeks, he cooperated in doing all the schoolwork that was asked of him.

Well, except for when they wanted to make a life-sized J out of paper.  No way was he going to lay down and let them trace his body shape.  But he did think it was really funny that another boy in the class pretended to be him and lay down on the paper to be traced.  And he was quite proud of the giant paper J he decorated.  It hung on our door for weeks and weeks after he brought it home.

For anyone else, his progress would have seemed minimal.  For the spectators watching the end of the year performance, it was hard to miss the one kid who turned away from the audience as much as he could, who refused to sing, refused to make any hand motions other than a very tiny twirl of his pointer finger.

But for us, the fact that he stayed up there and didn't just plant his feet and grow roots before he even stepped onto the stage--that was huge.  The fact that his pointer finger made any motion at all in front of hundreds of strangers--that was huge, too.  The fact that he learned some of the names of his classmates and his teachers and would talk about them at home . . . well, that was tremendous.

Tiny things that most kids never even spend a second thinking about would send J into terror mode.  But he never let that terror stop him in his tracks--at least not for too long.  Day in, day out he faced his fears and pushed through them.  He fought a battle within himself.  An unbelievably tough battle, for the ability to control his anxieties.  And little by little, he began to win that battle.

Fast forward to the fall of last year.  Kindergarten loomed ahead of him.  We didn't have to send him.  He could have stayed in preschool for another year.  He hadn't even turned five when the school year started.  But we felt it would be best to keep up the momentum, to build on the progress he'd made in preschool.  So we signed him up, hoping and praying that he would be able to handle school on a daily basis.

There were three different kindergarten classrooms.  But only one of which we felt that he would be able to thrive in.  So I took on the role of one of those pushy parents who simply won't settle for anything less than what they are convinced their child needs.  I wrote a most convincing and persuasive letter to the principal which served its purpose and landed J in the right class with the right teacher.

His first day, he didn't even look back at me as he filed into his classroom.  I felt triumphant for him.

 Throughout the year, he had his ups and downs.  But we managed to get him to school every day that he wasn't too sick to go.  At home, he used his teacher's name freely and would sometimes tell us stories about what the other kids said and did.  He was SO excited to take his bear to school for the teddy bear picnic.   And once he was in his classroom, he walked his bear all around the room, so the bear could see everything.

He went through a lot of different emotional stages as he not only learned to better control his anxieties, but also to shed some of them.  He would sometimes talk about college and adamantly profess that he would never go because he was going to live with me forever.  He would occasionally ask if Daddy could move out so he could just live with me.  For a while, he insisted on giving me "fifty hundred" hugs and kisses before he went to bed and would hug me randomly throughout the day.  He even played the word game where you express just how much you love someone in terms of distance, size, or physical feats.  But he was always adamant that he loved me "tons" more than I loved him.

 I felt like celebrating when he told me  "I like going to school, I just don't like getting ready," and  "A day at school is better than a boring old day at home."

 As the end of the school year came around, we were faced with a field trip to the zoo.  Earlier in the year, I had to accompany him on the bus for his field trip. There was no way he would have gone otherwise.  But for the zoo, I decided to meet him there and have him ride the bus with his class.  I wasn't sure it would work, but he did great.  He didn't look the least bit ruffled as I surreptitiously watched him climb the stairs and take his seat.

 Because I had R with me, we didn't get much of a chance to stay with his classmates until we caught sight of them later in the day.  J made sure we stuck with them like glue at that point.  Later, as we were driving home when it was all over, he told me,  "Mommy, I never want you to come with me to the zoo for a field trip ever again."

 Now I would venture to guess that most parents might be saddened by that statement from one of their children.  I might have felt a little bit sad by it had it come from any of my other children.  But when J said it, the only emotions I felt were pride, joy, and gratitude.  But of course I played it cool and merely responded, "Ok, baby.  If that's what you want.  It's kind of fun to go places with friends, isn't it?"

J has been engaged in a battle with social anxiety for nearly four years.  It has caused him to be noncompliant, to shriek, to throw tantrums, to have meltdowns, to freeze, to deny himself comfort, to avoid a tremendous number of fun things, and to retreat into himself.  It has been a not-so-fun roller coaster ride for our entire family.

But on that day, the day he realized it would be fun to enjoy something with friends WITHOUT me around, that was a milestone of momentous proportions.  It was a day where it was easy to see just how much his brave little heart had accomplished.

At the kindergarten program last week, J was standing comfortably on the stage, shoulder to shoulder with his peers.  He didn't seem to mind at all that there were hundreds of strangers staring up at them.  He zeroed in on my face right away and gave his trademark smile, the one he uses only when he's out in public.  He grins, then immediately tries to hide it by forcing the corners of his mouth down.  But you can still easily see that he's smiling, even though he's trying his best to suppress it.

 He proceeded to make all the hand motions for the songs they had prepared.  He even sang some of the lyrics--the ones he could remember.  And then, the most surprising thing of all, he walked calmly up to the microphone when his turn came and said,  "I'm J, and I want to be a soccer player."  He didn't clench his teeth, making his words unintelligible.  He didn't turn away and speak so softly that you couldn't hear him.  He said it loud and clear, for the whole room to hear.

Most of us have to face our fears at various points in our lives.  But J has had to face them on a daily basis for years.  And he didn't quit, he didn't give up.  He marched on, step by step, gaining ground slowly, but steadily.  THAT is what courage is all about.

Mary Anne Radmacher said,  "Courage doesn't always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow."

And that's what J has done all these years.  He's gotten up and tried again, day after day.  And I couldn't be more proud of my son, the bravest kid I know.

1 comment:

Mom said...

You must be terribly proud of him, learning to face some pretty overwhelming fears and move ahead. And I'm very proud of my daughter -the patient, loving, persistent mother of that little boy - who helped him on a daily basis to keep taking one step at a time forward when it would have been far easier for him to stop or turn back.