She is screaming in terror again. Afraid to walk into her own bedroom, she cowers and shakes her legs. As I push her to go through the door, face her fear, her anger turns on me.
“You just don’t understand me,” she screams.
I know she believes that with every ounce of her little body.
Yet, I do get it, my darling daughter.
Fear is something I understand intimately.
This week I had a car accident. I escaped with a few injuries, but my car did not. The events are on a loop in my brain, robbing me of sleep and keeping me quite tightly wound in fear.
Driving down a country road at 40 mph, a white van tried to cross right in front of me. I had no time to stop. I screamed and slammed on my brakes, but it wasn’t good enough. I hit the side of the van, the airbag opened and I just sat there in a cloud of smoke. I had been talking on my hands-free to a friend. I was on my way to deliver chocolate milk to his sick child. He heard it all.
I stumbled out of the car and sat on the curb. Police officers were everywhere and I was very confused. Someone put a blanket on my shoulders and my hand hurt bad enough for me to scream and cry. I looked down and it was burned. Some chemical from the airbag was burning my skin.
My friend arrives and so does an ambulance. The driver of the van was a parole officer and that’s why there are police everywhere. I sign forms, answer questions and do what I am told. It’s all a blur. My hand throbs whenever ice is removed and all I keep thinking about is my children, my friends and my family.
It could have been so much worse. That morning could have been the last time my children saw me. My friend could have heard my death while on the phone with me. My husband, mother and brother would be left with nothing but memories of me. Someday my children would read the journals I’d left behind and wonder at this mother that was so consumed with pain, anger and depression.
I would be leaving a legacy of fear.
That is not what I want.
I sit on my daughter’s floor and we are looking at each other. She is shaking again as she retells the story she heard at school that has been the cause of her anxiety and fear for about three weeks now.
A mother and daughter are playing a game in their house. The daughter’s eyes are blindfolded and she reaches her arms out in front of her. The mother claps and the girl follows it. At some point the mother goes into the kitchen to cook, but the girl is still playing. Clapping comes from the closet. The girl walks toward it, thinking it is her mother. Red eyes and hands appear and grab her. She disappears.
Tears stream down her face again at the retelling. I hold her and let her cry. I’m out of tricks and I’m so tried.
I have tried everything in my mommy arsenal to combat this for her. I have rubbed her back, let her follow me around like a shadow, slept with her, used natural calming oils, woken up all hours of the night to comfort her and talked endlessly about fear.
Nothing is working. She is jumpy, quick to tears and still as scared as ever.
“You just don’t understand me,” she says again in an exasperated tone. “You have never been this afraid.”
As I hold her, all the stupid fears that I live with daily swirl around me. They are all so limiting, debilitating and so ridiculously boring.
Suddenly I am angry.
Stop acting like your mother.
She is looking at me and I see so much of myself reflected back. All my imperfections and insecurity just mirrored back at me in this little concentrated form.
I do understand you, my love, and I am sorry.
“I can’t fight your fears for you,” I say while I stroke her cheek with my injured hand. “You have to do it. You have the power.”
“I can’t mommy,” she says. “I just can’t.”
“You can, my love. You will. There is no other option. You are tougher than you think.”
We lock eyes and she smiles a teeny bit.
Brother walks over. He has been fighting his fear too, but he has found a way to conquer it. No longer is he shadowing me or refusing to sleep in his room.
“Pretend you are a puppy,” he tells his sister. “You are learning and you might not always get it the first time, but you keep trying.”
He barks and licks her hand.
They both laugh.
Yes, my boy, we are puppies.
Sometimes we bark and chase our tail in the pure joy of the moment. Sometimes we chew up the couch and sit back and wonder at the destruction we caused.
We deserve instant forgiveness, endless chances and boundless love.
We all do.