“I don’t worry. I think ahead,” said my 9-year-old son.
That made me laugh out loud. But then it made me worry. He’s a Worrier. The boy was born with an extra dose of Anxious and a natural knack for Ruminating. He’s an expert at Catastrophizing. Of course, I am befuddled as to where on earth he could have gotten these traits–MUST be from his father’s side of the family…
It seemed as my son grew older, his anxiety subsided. I’m only now understanding it’s gone underground. Behaviorally, he’s pretty socially appropriate now, but all the anxiety lives inside his head and it seems pretty crowded up there. For instance, he’s spent a great deal of time planning what to do in case of a fire at home. On the surface, this seems appropriate. After all, don’t we practice fire drills, teach kids to know two escape routes out of the house, where to meet outside, etc.? Well, he’s taken it one step further–he’s worried a fire may break out in the kiln.
We don’t own a kiln.
“But we might, and I want to be prepared then,” he insists. The fact that I know we will never own a kiln does not dissuade him from planning ahead. He takes his concerns very seriously. This quirk seems very cute and makes for some good Facebook status posts. Until he stays up all night worrying about his math autobiography assignment, and if it’s good enough, detailed enough, long enough. He ruminates that if he doesn’t get a good grade on it, he won’t ever pass math and won’t graduate so will never get a job and thus will become homeless and hungry. The End.
Well then. His life story as he’s authored it makes my parenting job much easier if the bar is set so low. Phew! But alas, I “think ahead” too and know that if I don’t get this kid to learn better coping skills and how to live in the moment, he’s up against some other issues later in life. It’s been difficult playing Mom and Therapist to him because pleasedearGodjustfinishyourhomeworkandgettobedalready because yourmotheristired. And it’s been difficult for him to hear Therapist from me because well, to him, I’m Mom and I don’t invoice him–I just dole out meals and consequences.
When he’s so worried about everything possibly going wrong every step of the way, he’s missing precious, joyful moments of Silly and Gross and Woo-Hoo’s and Carefree. He’s spending too much time planning ahead for imaginary scenarios and elusive disasters and potential pitfalls. Many of the most amazing moments in life are the ones unplanned. Moments that catch us off guard if we’re open to them. He’s a control freak–always wants to know details to plan ahead. He’s naturally set at “Hyper-vigilant.” He is not a fan of change or the unexpected. Neither am I, truth be told. But as I get older and wiser (mainly just older), I’ve gotten a lot better with embracing the unknown and going with the flow (and not just when I’m drunk).
Being in the moment. Embracing the moment. Each moment. Each experience. Because I see now I’ve never really crossed those bridges I spent so much time erecting all these years. Those bridges were carefully constructed because on the other side of “planning ahead” and the compulsion to control is the belief and misguided perception that this control minimizes hurts and disappointments and pain–keep your expectations low and controlled. But when you minimize your experience of pain, you’re diminishing your joy too. You can’t choose one set of emotions to dull. So not only do you miss opportunities for joy by focusing on planning ahead, but you also diminish your joy when building a bridge that’s really a dam that keeps feelings contained and pent up.
But dams overflow. I’ve learned to trust that everything will work out in the end–even when there’s a flood of emotions. Trust that I can weather disasters and hurts. Trust that things will be fine both in spite of and because of our imperfections and mistakes. Trust that I’m resilient when everything goes to hell. I’m not sure these lessons come only with time and age. I’d like to believe (NOT plan ahead!) that he can learn to live in moments of uncertainty as well. We do this with a lot of talking, a lot of patience, a lot of me modeling behavior. It’s a lot of practice, a lot of doing, not a lot of planning ahead.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow. It only robs today of its joy.” ~Leo Buscaglia