Friday, April 20, 2018

Bravery like birds

I hug her one last time, kiss her cheek, and whisper in her ear that she’s brave. In her eyes, old tears dried at the corners, I see fear, and it pains me. I bite my lip, send up yet another silent prayer, and turn my back and walk away. I feel like a mother bird, pushing her young offspring out of the nest, wishing, hoping and praying that she will open her wings and realize she can fly.

They, the ubiquitous “they,” always say that having kids is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body and I had never understood exactly what they meant until recently. In so many ways, she’s my mini-me. We think alike, we view the world the same way, we share similar struggles. I know the feelings of fear and dread that knot in her stomach this morning, all the emotions raging within, her mind that spins with tormenting thoughts, distracting, wholly consuming.

Her goal today is to get in trouble at school. There are many things we say and do in parenting that we never anticipated. Please take that rock out of your nose. Stop licking your brother’s toes. But asking my child to break a rule? This is unchartered territory, not the advice I’m accustomed to reading in the pages of parenting books. Specifically, we’ve instructed her to disregard her classroom rules and get up, walk over to the pencil sharpener and begin sharpening her pencils during a time when her classmates are seated on the floor and listening to a lesson. She is to stand there, toying with the pencil sharpener and creating a ruckus until her teacher calls her back. This is our baby step toward facing her fear of “getting in trouble.”

It’s counterintuitive and baffling, especially for me, a fellow rule-follower to the Nth degree. She and I, we care so much about what other people think. We’ve lived our lives boxed in on all sides by the opinions of others, desiring perfection, wanting to be found satisfactory. Because alas, on most days, we catch ourselves assessing our worth as based upon what we do, what we have, and what other people think of us.

It is these chains that we are trying to break today, in days past, and in the many days to come. We are undertaking what those in the psychotherapy world would term “exposures,” instances where we intentionally face situations that make us feel most anxious. And then, equipped with “coping thoughts” and strategies, we ride the waves of emotion with the goal of coming out okay on the other side, braver, stronger, relieved and very much still alive. These exercises are a part of a new approach we are taking, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a practice that is believed to help individuals overcome anxiety, which is our obvious long-term goal.

All morning, I’ve watched her. I know exactly how she is feeling. It’s written all over her face. I know she will think of nothing else until the triggering deed is complete. I know how it will consume her, how she will think, rethink, overthink and then begin the cycle again. She will obsess over how and when she should approach the pencil sharpener. Should she jump up and run to it right away after her classmates are settled on the carpet? Should she wait until five minutes into the lesson? What if her teacher asks them to bring pencils to the carpet? What if it makes sense to go and sharpen her pencil during that time frame? Will the exposure be void? What if her teacher never asks them to go to the carpet? What if she can’t get the pencil sharpener to work? What if her teacher never calls her back from the sharpener and she stands there sharpening for 15 minutes? What will others think of her?

We rehearse and discuss all morning long. She is plagued. She cannot fathom how this pencil sharpening ordeal will go down without an eternal stamp of embarrassment tattooed across her forehead. She can’t get outside of the situation and see it for what it is. It feels so life-altering.

Experience tells me this is how the morning will go down: she will walk over to the pencil sharpener and her teacher will say a simple “Hey, can you please join us at the carpet?” And then it will be over. All this anxiety over a situation that lasted a grand total of three seconds. No “behavior slip” with her name on it. No trips to the principal’s office. Her permanent record with remain unmarred. Her teacher will still like her. She will not lose any friendships over this. Her friends probably won’t even notice that she was missing at the carpet and they most certainly won’t remember the situation in two minute’s time.

It’s easy being the outsider looking in, but to be the one experiencing it? I’ve been there countless times before and I know it’s the pits. I can hardly stand it, knowing I am pushing my child to do this. Yet I know it is for her best. How often have I obsessed over similar circumstances?

We have been attending an anxiety group “for our daughter” and meanwhile, I catch myself frantically taking notes for me. Everything they present applies to my struggles. They are highlighting all MY behaviors. They are giving voice to the way I view so many situations.
I’m like a schoolgirl on her first day of class, absorbing, inhaling information. I’ve been doing my own therapy too and it’s like all my worlds are colliding in perfect synchrony, pieces coming together and building upon each other. We learn about our inner critics, these voices that tell us we are failures, not good enough, voices that convince us everyone is paying attention and judging. We learn about positive self-talk, our own inner voice that is to replace all the negative ones. We need to create new pathways in our brains. We need to reroute our thoughts onto detours, with the goal of those detours one day becoming the new main thoroughfare. All this is taught at a child’s level, which is apparently just the level I need.

I feel EVERYTHING. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see it more clearly before. I’m mortified that it took hearing the information presented at a class intended for my child to obtain a full grasp on it. I feel entirely overwhelmed. There is so much work to do. She’s been on this earth for less than a decade and I’ve been here for over three and here we find ourselves, on the same page. I mourn the fact that I didn’t have the tools I needed earlier to combat my anxiety, that for so long I have allowed what other people think of me to govern my life. I feel responsible. It stings knowing my daughter shares my DNA, that she struggles because I struggle. I know genetics are not my fault, but it doesn’t erase how this knowledge pains me.

At the same time, I celebrate our progress. I celebrate the ways God is working in our home and family. The Holy Spirit is moving and empowering and filling our minds and teaching us the way HE views us. More than ever before, we are learning to view ourselves as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are countering our negative thoughts about ourselves. We are replacing them with words of worth. We are learning to let go of the opinions of those around us. We are breaking the rules. We are living on the edge a little. Well. The “edge” for us anyways.

And, by the grace of God, we are being pushed from the nest and realizing, Hey. We might just have wings to fly.

This, my friends, is bravery.


  1. I’d love to hear more about the group or class you are taking. Your story sounds like I could be writing it about myself and my oldest daughter.


posted by kelsie