Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Love Thursday: Love Keeps On

My eldest son James has started a new school this year. This is after starting a new school last year due to moving and changing school districts. Have I ever mentioned that James is not a fan of change? Well, there, consider it said. Since he was a toddler, he has had difficulty with transitions. You expect that sort of things with little ones, but it's a little harder to deal with when your little one isn't so little any more.

James has always been pretty laid back and mellow. He'll let others have a turn before him; he's pretty okay with letting others get what they want most of the time.He doesn't often lose his temper. And this is all great--most of the time. The problem comes when he's had it with letting others come before him or when he's been pushed to the limit by people who think that just because he's easygoing it means that they can put on steel-toed boots and walk all over him. It's not fun to watch, but I feel a weird sort of satisfaction in knowing that he does indeed have a limit, and that once it's reached, he becomes pretty darn immovable in his convictions. I am hoping that this will be one giant positive when it comes to peer pressure.

All of this is to say that sometimes my beloved boy squashes his feelings and that when they begin to bubble to the surface, well, let's just say that Mt. Vesuvius has nothin' on James.

One of the things that tends to happen when you squash your feelings and you don't like transitions, is that you harbor some anxiety. We saw this beast rear its ugly head last fall when James made the transition to his new school. It was tough for him. He was leaving a school where he loved the teachers and made many friends. He was headed into the unknown and that made him very nervous--as it would most people. When he got there, he was in an advanced math class, which was where he belonged, but they were slightly ahead of him and had covered some things he hadn't yet covered in his old school. This was a recipe for major anxiety and nightly meltdowns. Eventually, due to some kind diligence on the part of his teacher and patient work on our part, he caught up. But not before he spent many nights sobbing and shaking and many mornings sobbing, shaking, and refusing to get on the bus.

Pushing my sweet boy, who was trying so hard to hold back tears that he was shaking with the effort, on that bus in the mornings was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I was fortunate at that time to have my parents in town to help us work on the house. And they reinforced and encouraged Patrick and I as we struggled. This was an unbelievable help and blessing, to have people hug you and tell you that you were doing the right thing, even though it was the hardest thing.

We encountered a milder version of this anxiety as school started last week. Actually, the first three days were fine. James told me he had butterflies, but we talked and I reassured him that it was normal to be nervous. Even his teachers got nervous about the beginning of school. But Sunday night, as we were getting to bedtime, James started to come undone. He couldn't put his finger on any one thing that was bothering him. We probed and questioned, but he just couldn't come up with one thing that was causing him to be anxious, he just was. We spent Sunday night trying to quell his fears and calm his tears.

I tried to explain to James that his anxiety about the new stuff was pretty normal. I also explained that thanks to the fabulous fusion of his father's and my genes, he has some predisposition to worrying and being anxious. (From his father's side. I worry sometimes, but I am pretty much a "I'll deal with that when the time comes" kind of gal.) My dear husband is really good at many things. Unfortunately, worrying is one of them. His own mother is a pro at worrying. I've often said that my mother-in-law, whom I love deeply, is so great at worrying that I don't need to because she'll do enough for everyone.

We also told James that when it comes down to it, fear and anxiety are emotions. They aren't rational, but we have to try to master them. Just like trying to become the masters over our anger, or choosing joy, or opting to love people even when we don't want to.

We explained to him that it didn't matter to us if he was at the top of the class or the bottom, as long as he was giving his best efforts, we would be happy. We explained to him that our love is not performance based. That we would love him, no matter what. There was no way for him to undo our love. We told him he could never screw up bad enough to keep our love away.

Sunday night was a long night for the three of us. But Monday morning, James got on the bus--nerves and all. I reassured him that it would be okay and that many, many prayers would be offered up for him.

When I got to school that night for Meet The Teacher Night, I found a letter sitting on his desk. This is what it said:

Dear Mom,
I hope this letter will make you feel better about this school. All of my teachers are nice. I have all my school supplies. I get my locker open every time.

It did make me feel better. And he hasn't had any more problems all week. But you know what?
We're ready for the next time, because there most certainly will be a next time. Anxiety will likely tap James on the shoulder and ask him to dance. Until then, we'll keep reassuring, keep trying, and keep loving him--because that's what love does.

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