Since very early on, we’ve known that our daughter experiences anxiety. As a baby, she had strong “stranger danger”, she took months to start enjoying and participating in parent-and-me classes, she looked miserable when introducing her to exciting playgrounds and parks.
She’s 5 now, and we still deal with her anxiety on a daily basis. We recently took a long weekend to head up to our favorite “glamping” spot. It’s our fourth visit there, so it’s pretty familiar to our kids, and they love being there. We started talking about it a month ahead of time, and her excitement was through the roof. Everyone knew we were going on vacation – her teacher, our neighbors, the mail lady – she was bubbling over with excitement.
Skip ahead to the actual trip. She suddenly became moody, pouty, teary eyed. She argued with me, she was mean to her little sister, she had trouble sharing with her friends. Every adventure starts out as an issue, and by the time she’s having fun, my husband and I are about at the end of our ropes.
“Look, a fuzzy caterpillar! How cool! Want to hold it?”
Grumpy pout face.
“We brought your new bike! Let’s go ride it to the playground!”
“Instead of s’mores tonight, we brought fancy cupcakes to celebrate Daddy’s birthday! Do you want chocolate or strawberry?”
On top of everything else, she suffers from a disorder called Pollakiuria, a daytime overactive bladder condition caused by anxiety. So, she has to use the restroom a zillion times a day, often in the most inopportune places (porta-potties, gas stations, every disgusting public bathroom situation you can imagine). She’s self conscious about it, so we try to keep a calm face, but the cycle can get ugly.
On the last day of our trip, she started crying out of nowhere:
“I don’t want to go home! I want to stay here forever!”
**insert eye roll, based on the observation for 3 straight days that she’s been utterly and completely miserable**
It’s hard, because her perception of these adventures is that she had a great time. She reflects back as having loved trying new things, mastering her new bike, overcoming her fear in the pool, and feeding the goats she was originally spooked by. But, she’s such an introverted observer, that these mini victories are mostly internal. She won’t show the bravery, the confidence, until she feels like she’s COMPLETELY over the mountain. Mastering the trick isn’t fun, but looking back and seeing her accomplishments, in hindsight, is remarkable to her.
We’re constantly struggling between nurturing her apprehensive personality, and pushing her to try new things that will help her to grow and expand her world. We want her to be confident and realize her incredible potential without crushing her spirit or trying to turn her into something she’s not. She’s incredibly bright and imaginative and inquisitive, but she’s so slow to warm up, you’d think she’s made of ice.
Side note: this is the kid that barely cracked a smile when we celebrated her 3rd birthday at Disneyland, and has since spent the last 2 years talking about what an incredible, magical day it was (and when can we go back?!?). Seriously, she looked like we had taken her to watch animals being slaughtered.
I’m sure I’m handling it all wrong, and I certainly beat myself up about it. I get tired trying to understand her emotions, especially when I KNOW she’ll love something once she gives it a chance. I become reluctant to book our next trip, because the mental strain on all of us is a heavy load to carry.
But, when I tucked her into her own bed the night we got home, she recounted all the fun she had – swimming, riding bikes, “remember that caterpillar?!?”, “I’m going to dream about my strawberry cupcake” – and I remind myself, for the 100th time, that even though she doesn’t show her joy the same as other kids, it doesn’t mean she’s not experiencing it. She still deserves the wonder, the excitement, the experience. She just needs a safe space to process it all until she feels ready to let the joy show on her face.