Watching the clouds gather, I think of how my emotions towards my daughter flop, flip, flop, flip- a fish on the shore- compassionate, frustrated, tender, exhausted.
The storm is gaining momentum. The sky rumbles.
She’s crying again, and my eyes are itchy from exhaustion. I feel a weariness come over my body, and I roughly shove it away.
I make her lunch, ignoring that she’s not eating her breakfast.
I count the times she woke me in the night, anxious about going to school. I am mad. Hardened. Forcing patience out of my pores, with my fingers crossed that she doesn’t know how sick of her I really am.
I slap her sandwich together and shove it in her lunch box.
She smiles up at me from the crook of my arm. Her laugh comes from her belly, or maybe her toes. Her sense of humor is acute and delightful, perfectly pitched to my own sensibilities.
“Young children have more fears and phobias than adults, and experience the emotion of them more intensely.” The manila envelope containing the Anxiety Care handout from the school counselor greets me when I open her backpack.
I scan through, heart rate quickening, hopeful- oh so hopeful- that the answers lie within.
The fetid smells of institutional learning flicker through my mind, taking me back. I am in a Psych class, in the basement of an old brick and stone building.
The answers are no where to be found.
My own anxiety keeps me awake at night, my brain flicking around, not actually worrying, not actually solving anything, but awake. Body begs brain to turn off. Brain lets out a belch and keeps whirring. I feel my breast, detect the one small spot where the “tissues are thickened”. The C word drifts around, but I never allow my brain to pull it into focus. Not tonight.
My daughter is standing by my bedside. She too is awake, always awake in the night when I am. ALWAYS. Her intuitive nature intrigues me, maddens me, and guilt washes over when the thoughts she gets this from you whisper through my head.
“Gobacktobed” I murmur, frustrated.
I watch her through an upstairs window. It’s the weekend, no school in sight, and she’s jumping on the trampoline while the soaker hose mists her with cool water. She is vibrant, her cells so full of energy their communications are nearly visible.
Her laughter drifts up, up, up, and I remember her first laugh: her drooly chin and gummy mouth agape. The heavens opened for an instant that day and jolted me with the sheer joy one feels when hearing the angels sing.
I so easily can recall all of the times I rocked her in my arms, smelling her curls and stroking her cheek. All the blankets I have tucked around her, to comfort her, to keep her warm. All of the times I have set her gently in her bed, my own shirt damp from the fact of her.
Now, looking at her out the window, one would never guess that for the last 4 weeks she has been in tears, morning & night, about going to school. The bright blue sky behind her confirms my belief: my girl is happy.
That night, as I pull the covers around her once again, I get a whiff of her baby-self.
*Bing-ping* The almost daily email from her teacher arrives. “She’s settled in fine.” “She’s happy and talkative today.” “She’s doing fine here. I wish we could read her mind!”
Her teacher likes her, I can tell. Once she’s at school, her days are good.
I sip my hot coffee, burning my tongue a little. While I rub the raw part over my teeth I breathe a sigh of thanks that she has the teacher she has.
I ask about her day; her eyes twinkle. She tells me about the special sticker she got, what she did at recess, the funny thing a boy said to her. I watch her closely, quietly wondering if something at school is making her upset.
As the stories bubble forth, I know in my heart that everything at school is just fine. I can feel it. My girl is anxious, but the answer is not so simple as someone picking on her.
Relief and frustration have an equal hold on me.
I may avoid plastic, drink from jelly jars, buy local foods, live in a small town, cherish girlfriends, advocate for birthing women, teach breastfeeding class, and take lots of photos.
I also go to church even though I’m not sure I’m a “Christian”, am terrible about returning phone calls, yell too much at my kids, and crave cigarettes whenever I smell one being lit. I’m anxious, have had anxious thoughts and tendencies most of my life, and most prolifically after my twins were born.
But I am not Anxiety.
The rain stops and I step outside to look for a rainbow. My bare feet get wet and a little muddy, but no matter where I search the sky, there are no rainbows in sight.
The way the sunlight is bursting through the clouds, I am sure that someone is seeing a rainbow right now. I wonder who they are.
Slowly, slowly things are getting better. The more back to her old self she gets, the more I realize how much I missed her.
And the more of her that comes back to us, the more I remember. She is not Anxiety either.
There are no boxes for my girl- We are not putting her in one, her teacher is not putting her in one… Her daddy is downstairs making pancakes with her. I hear them laughing. “You are my expert egg cracker,” he says. I imagine her grinning, and I think she IS good at cracking eggs. The thought makes me smile, and I click over to facebook to look at a favorite photo of her.
The flip/flopping recedes, and I resign to riding this out.
An unexpected kindness on a dark day has become a tentative friendship. She has looked cancer in the face and has come out on the other side beautiful, with sparkling eyes.
“Will you tell me your story?” I ask. And her teacher smiles.
I have so much to learn.
The sky is yellow now, or rather the light from the sky is yellowish pink, making the trees seem to glow, tricking my eyes to think the light is coming from inside their leaves. It’s evening, and the rain has stopped. I still don’t see a rainbow, but the light is so unique and magical I realize I’m no longer looking for one.
Something on my cheek tickles, and as I go to itch it I realize is a little spittle from her joyful goodnight kisses. She went to bed so happy, it was just like old times.