There are times when we have an idea that, on the surface, seems like it will be a good fit. The expectations seem reasonable and attainable, we may even have experienced success in the past. We know to anticipate a few ups and downs but for the most part, feel confident that the day will go well.
I had one of those days this week. We had made a plan to attend an amusement park with relatives. This type of outing has always gone quite well in the past. It was quite chaotic trying to get ready to leave that morning, but we finally made it onto the highway. It was a one and a half hour drive to get to the park. We arrived and met up with another cousin who we hadn’t seen in a while. Everyone was excited to go in and start exploring the park and the rides. Smiles, laughter, boasting about previous experiences. Happiness.
Within fifteen minutes of our arrival, anxiety took full control. It is always hard to watch this happen because you know that your child doesn’t choose this. The things that happen, the words that are said, this is the anxiety roaring and asserting itself as master. Anxiety chose escape as it’s only strategy that day. Escape was all that could be thought about.
“Get . Me . Out . Of . Here . Now!”
These moments are hard for a parent. You don’t want to “give in” by simply getting up and leaving. You need to do a very good assessment of the situation and determine the likelihood of being able to turn things around. You need to provide the time and opportunity to calm, to re-frame, to try again. And you need to set aside all your own hopes and expectations YOU had for the day and really listen to what your child is trying to tell you.
It was pretty clear that anxiety wanted nothing to do with the amusement park, but I still tried. We walked for a bit, hoping that the movement would help. It didn’t. We sat on a bench. Just sat there. Nope. We left the park and sat in our truck. I saw the anxiety loosen its hold a bit then. Muscles unclenched. I wasn’t ready to give up yet. We continued sitting there. Sometimes talking, sometimes not. Just allowing ourselves time. There just wasn’t going to be enough time on this day.
That’s the thing about anxiety. It doesn’t give you a solid timeline for recovery. Ever. Sometimes we are able to manage it quickly and continue on with our day; and other times, like this day, it holds you tightly in its grip. Not willing to move on.
When we finally drove out of the park, sleep took over. A full hour of sleep. Ah-ha. I started reflecting on the clues and the signals that had been sent my way. The excitement of the coming day had interrupted our sleep the night before. My child had provided me with clues earlier that morning, but in the rush to get ready to leave I didn’t give them the attention I should have. I thought about all the expectations I had recently placed on my child – we have been travelling to visit relatives – our time in the vehicle has exceeded thirty hours in the past ten days. Our longest stay in one place has been four days.
And you know what? My child, this boy who craves routine and quiet and space, he has coped so well with this trip. Sometimes when things are going so well, we forget to pay attention to the details. We forget to look at and honour what it takes to cope with such a deviation away from our typical, quiet, predictable days. We assume that because things are going well they will continue to go well, forgetting all the energy that it takes to manage and cope.
As he slept in the seat beside me, I could have embraced my own mom guilt about what had happened at the park, but instead I chose to think about all the successes we have already had on this trip. When he woke up we had a chance to talk about what had happened he gave voice to all that I had been thinking about while he had been sleeping. It had simply been too much. We talked about our plans for the coming days. We would be staying in one place for the remainder of our trip. We would become more predictable and I would pay more attention to the signals he was giving me.
When we arrived back home, we let the dog outside to play. Our child has a lot of anxiety about his dog being out off-leash, he is worried our dog will run away or get hurt. But on this day, the one that had been so hard, I asked my son to let me show him how our dog would listen and run with me when he was off his leash. Only for a minute. Reluctantly, he agreed. But he wanted to run with the dog, not me. I smiled as he unhooked the leash, and I directed him to run towards an outbuilding and then back towards me.
It was a beautiful moment. Anxiety was replaced by JOY. My lovely boy laughed and marvelled at how fast our dog could run, how quickly he could switch directions. He let the dog stay off leash for the rest of the time we were outside. And in those moments, my son had released his own tether to anxiety and both of them were free.
Karen Copeland is a mom of two from Abbotsford BC. She is a passionate advocate for curiosity and seeing our children and families through a strengths based lens. She believes in the opportunities created when families and professionals come together to learn from, with and about one another; and reminds us of the importance of honouring the champions who come into our lives to support us on our journey.