Sunday, May 20, 2007

scaredy cat

my parents are in town this weekend, a blessing overall and yet sometimes not. our house is incredibly small, adding two more people inside it's walls reduces the space, air quality seems forced at a time when i need to be taking great giant gulps of air. on top of that j is sick, has been sick, sick all week.

i've retreated at the predawn hours on a sunday to a local coffee shop, stepping over sleeping people on my way out the door. work is filling my lungs from within, projects yet to be finished and sweeping changes in the process of being made.

and yet as i sit in this still small morning instead of using the time wisely my mind drifts to my child, this child of my heart and all the ways we teach them to fear.

we have some rules already; no talking about monsters unless in response to M's questioning, no joking about dark places. but fear is everywhere, used sometimes as a game while grandma pretends to be afraid when M puts on lion mask and chases her around the room. scary! she says. so scary! to which M says me scared too, gramma! mom, i say, the downer at the party, it isn't scary. it's funny, it's adorable, but it's not scary. i realize you are kidding, but she listens to your words and somewhere deep inside must wonder why this earns the label of scared.

you are right, she said, you are right. and stops. a small victory.

be careful, we holler, as M climbs down steps or rides her bike. you could fall, echoes in her ears as she races past.

there were monsters at school today, M screeches on our way home last week. monsters? I would have liked to meet them. I love monsters. in fact, they are my favorite. No mommie, they are scary! i scared! Scared? I say, did one of the monsters scare you? yes! she exclaims. How, baby? and there is nothing to say, a process in her head still to complicated to put into words, but yet it's there, the fear.

I want her to be fearless, to laugh in the face of monsters, to know she has all the resources in the world to keep herself safe, and yet i am achingly aware of her vulnerability. On the surface I can be diligent, aware, careful. I can screen out books that reference being afraid of the dark or fear of monsters. And there are practical things to fear in this world, the balance of that staggers me regularly, I can't pretend that isn't true.

But what about the fear I carry around with me every single day? The fear of failure, of insecurity, of vulnerability. Of making the wrong decision and falling short? Of not being a good mother, partner, daughter, human? How do I wear my fear and what bigger lesson do I teach M by it's presence?

And worse is the hypocrisy, because monsters scare me too, but it's the unknown ones around the corner rather than the ones under the bed.


Tabba said...

Yeah, the ones under the bed...the ones you know are can choose your weapons. The hidden ones, you never know what you're up against.

Teaching our daughters to be fearless.....our daughters.
Not always an easy task.

It's all about tools. Giving them and ourselves as many tools as we possibly can.

NotSoSage said...

Yes, Mme L has a shirt that says, "Be Kind to Monsters (What did they ever do to you?)" And we talk about the friendly monsters she gets to play with.

But I, too, wonder when and how to talk about those things that are fearful and one needs to be cautious about; especially when they're not as easy to spot as that lion mask.

Susanne said...

You know, I try to teach my son that while everyone has fears we don't have to act on them. I told him that humans are afraid of the dark because they used to sleep outdoors and there were big animals but nowadays there aren't.

As my mother did I try to make the fear go away by rationalizing it. Unlike my mother I know that it's still there.

I don't think that being fearless is really a good thing. There are things one should be afraid of for good reason.

My son still sleeps with a light on and the door open but these past weeks he hasn't been afraid of monsters, he has played that he is one. I've seen this cycle three times so far.

Eventually he will have to deal with it on his own. Those are his fears and we can only say that everything is well and that we are there for him.

(Oh, and nobody told him about fear of darkness or monsters as far as I know.)

QT said...

I have no wisdom to share. When I was a child, I used to have horrific and vivid nightmares. I still remember them. As an adult, I still have very bad dreams that seem quite real, but not as frequently.

All this and we were not allowed to watch much TV when I was growing up, so that can't be blamed.

It sounds like you are doing everything you can. You are right, at some point, M will have to deal with it on her own.

Anonymous said...

I think children like to be scared. All the old fairy tales were certainly scary tales. The rides at amusement centres are mostly scary. I think children walk a fine line between wanting to feel scared and wanting to feel safe. I think they're learning how to deal with their fears, monsters are scary but it's safe because they're not real.
As for our children they're of us but they're not us. When I was a child I was the antithesis of fearless and yet my middle daughter is fearless. She doesn't take crap from anyonef. You just never know how they'll turn out.
Fear isn't always a bad thing either, keeps us from running onto the road or riding with a drunk driver.

Hel said...

I believe that being with you will teach her to explore her fears rather than hide from them.

Although we are all scared our hearts know the power of trust and vulnerability

kristen said...

I think it's really easy to fall prey to worry and fears and translate them to our kids. And they take what we say literally. The monsters around the corner are the ones I worry most about - the ones under the bed can be sprayed away with monster rid-spray. xo

flutter said...

some fear is healthy. You take unneccessary risks when you have absolutely no fear. But it's to strike that beautiful balance, to know when something is too harmful to attempt, and to know that something is not beyond your abilities to conquer. That balance comes in little steps, little tiptoes of bravery.
She gets that from you and J.

thailandchani said...

I don't think anyone can be protected from fear entirely. Maybe it's more a matter of teaching appropriate fear.

The thing about monsters and the dark.... it is really that you don't want her being afraid of the unknown?

What a gift that would be! LOL



Sandra said...

So much of this post I could have written Jen. Sincerely (only not half as eloquent).

My son is often fearful and I wish fearlessness for him more than anything. But I know that, I, myself am not fearless.

slouching mom said...

maybe it will help for you to know this:

jack at three and four was scared. all the time. of everything, both comprehensible (monsters) and incomprehensible (the cartoon called 'kipper').

and now, at five, he seems to have worked through it, on his own, and is no longer held back by fear.

i wonder if three- and four-year-olds must go through a time of fearing everything in order to learn what's worth fearing and what's not.

Beck said...

Some people are just more fearful than others. My oldest child is reasonably fearless - at least, she appears so to me - while my son is frightened of many things. This is just who he is and I try to make the world feel safer, kinder.

Z said...

I think children instinctively need to test themselves against (acceptable) levels of fear. They do enjoy being scared, as long as they know it will stop at any time they want it to.

It's like being tickled - they might scream 'stop!' one moment, but then want to be tickled again the next.

Teaching them our own fears is a different matter, and it's hard not to do it unconsciously.

Emily said...

And yet the world is pretty scary sometimes. At least M has someone looking over her shoulder. I think that puts her a bunch of steps ahead.

Christine said...

I, too, so want to raise my kids to not have a lot of needless fear in their lives. I have a friend who literally tries to scare her kids into being near her. She tells them that "bad people" will get them if mommy is not near. She says that they could be snatched and hurt at any second. Needless to say her little guys are SO fearful it is unhealthy. And now these kids are introducing my cautious yet brave children to monsters, and bad people, and terror. I try and turn it around after they are together, but now my daughter is terrified of the attic door in her room. It used to be a cute little door to a secret world; now it hides horrible monsters and kidnappers. Sigh. Definitely time to limit thier play time together.

Bon said...

sometimes, i read the posts by those of you that year and two and three and ten ahead of me in this parenting journey, and my own fear rises up in my many hurts to watch come down the pipe, so many things to worry about handling well. and yet, reading the road ahead is comforting too...helps me realize that no matter what things scare me or my child, someone else will have been there first, will have advice and support. that we will not be alone.

and i wonder if i will be able to explain that to O, to help him find some comfort in that.

J Fife said...

If only we could protect our sweet ones from all of the monsters of the world. My stomach churns when I think of the possible pain my child will face. I can only hope that I've made her strong enough to rise above the fear. It sounds like you're setting a great path for M.

Oh, The Joys said...

...or the fear of walking alone after dark because you are one gender and not the other...

Lawyer Mama said...

This is a hard one. I have to be careful with my oldest because he's already a little too frightened of all things new. But we always can't protect them from what others say.

The other day we were driving home and passing a wooded area. Hollis pointed out that it was dark, with lots of trees and looked very spooky. Spooky? Where did that come from, I wonder? I'd rather he just saw the beautiful trees and not the shadows between them.

Aliki2006 said...

I agree--it is a hard balance to strike between some healthy fear, and crippling fear. I struggle with this as well.

Great post.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh! Fear has *such* an unfair bum rap.

You don't teach fear; we come equippped with it.

What you teach is how to handle fear, how to be courageous.

Courage is what matters; that's the focus.

I don't ever want to teach my kids to be fearless. I want to teach them how to distinguish "ungrounded fear" from "grouned fear" and what to do to manage it.

To me it's the difference between only telling my kids what not to do versus telling them an okay thing to do instead.

The "bad" emotions---such as anger, fear, sadness---are just as important as the good emotions, and we all need to learn how to live wisely with *all* of our emotions.

They are a part of us; they are us.

I hear what you are saying, I do. I don't want to scare my kids into paralysis, but I don't think I can, anyway...they see me more than they hear me. But I do also want to teach them caution and wise judgment. I understand your point is about the teaching of the wisdom...i think?

Jenny said...

The monsters we don't know are so uch scarier than the ones we do.

Pgoodness said...

you are a wise one, you know? I've always tried to avoid calling things scary or acting afraid of things so that my boys wouldn't be afraid. But you are so right when you say that things stick with them and echo in their ears. Matt has ghosts in his room - and after providing a ghost "spray", he isn't afraid as much any more. We talked about how they weren't scary and how they were so silly because they wanted to play all night while he needed to sleep. So we tell them to go away and come back during the day. In general, it works. And monsters, well, I'm not ashamed to admit that Monsters, Inc. has allowed the silliness of monsters to override the scariness of them!
The hard thing these days is that when I tell him not to do something, knowing he'll get hurt, or scared or something and he asks WHY. Things we take for granted they know nothing about and it's important and very difficult not to push our fears onto them. The falling off the bike thing - to them, what does it matter? To us, we're thinking bruises and blood and emergency rooms.
It's hard not to put our adult fears on our kids, boys or girls. Our children are vulnerable to many things, but fear shouldn't be one of them.

crazymumma said...

You keep doing it babe.

You keep writing these posts that is like 'everythought' in 'somany' heads.

I prefer the monsters of fantasy, fangs adrip with gore and scales down the back, far prefer those to the kind faced familiar where behind lurks a monster.

I have so much to say on this subject I just need to stop now.

Jocelyn said...

This post raises such good questions, perhaps most pointedly whether it's possible to be a fearless person...and if it is, if that's the best thing we can be. I totally know what you mean, of course, but there is also something protective about fear (it keeps us from going too close to the edge) and, well, just really human.

I'm scared of a ton of things, but I'm also full of adventure and confidence and strength. So fear may not nullify all those other good things.

Anyhow, I hope your house is, um, feeling bigger soon.

Lucia said...

What a number of fascinating comments your post has raised. I, as others have already mentioned, believe fear has a place...not fake fear...of monsters and scary movies, but the fear that we learn how to respond to and it keeps us safe.

Bob said...

I think monsters are a normal part of childhood, they put a face on the fears that children have but cannot describe. The human animal fears, it is instinctual. while I applaud your teaching your daughter to be fearless, maybe by trying to eliminate the mere mention of monsters or other things to be feared you are eliminating an opportunity for her to grow, for her to obtain the tools so she will need to conquer her fears. showing M that monsters are not to be feared, that they aren't real, that they have no hold on her will teach her methods to confront the fears that she will encounter later in life. Much as today you fear for her, you have the tools to deal with that fear.

KC said...

Yes, without fear, we could not survive, but how to funnel that fear in children so they can wield it to help themselves through this life and not burden them.

I was scared as a child. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of Poltergeists. And today, still probably a little on the too fearful continuum. I do wish I was taught to handle this better.

cinnamon gurl said...

I'm with Julie Pippert and Susanne on this one. I don't think fear is so much a cultural, learned thing as it is an innate, adaptive response that keeps us safe. Fear can certainly go overboard and become crippling, but much of it is healthy. I remember reading somewhere that courage is not feeling fearless, but feeling fear and doing something anyways. That's what I'd like to encourage in my son... some tools to help figure out what fears are helpful and what fears are not.

cinnamon gurl said...

PS... as someone who has suffered crippling anxiety, one of the things I am most proud of is how I have overcome it, how I continue to overcome it.

meno said...

Sometimes kids like to play at scared in a safe environment, to learn about control.

I too would have liked to have taught my daughter to be fearless, but there is to much to be afraid of.

liv said...

No kidding...when do they decide that there are monsters? D has been talking about this lately and I tell him there are no monsters in our house, but he does have a Mom-ster who loves him very much. Cheesy, yes. Does it work? Yes. 'nuff said.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between fear and caution though isn't there?

Like the caution one takes walking through the city at night (is that just a woman thing?) vs the fear of walking down an alley.

I agree...fear has it's place...and it's place is not in the hearts of wee ones...although if you believe in previous lives (as I do), some fears are brought with you into your current life, and are completely unexplicable (such as fobias)...

My daughter chooses her own fears...which currently is just of flying bees (which translates into anything that's small and buzzing and flying her way). It's foreign to me...I don't have that fear, so trying to help her overcome it is a challenge. I just keep telling her "bees like you honey"...and she looks at me with disbelief as she repeats what I've a mantra. So far it hasn't worked...but I'm not giving up.


Kyla said...

I love the way you teach and parent, M. You are so very mindful in your approach. It is lovely.

I think children play at fear, like trying on dress up clothes. They put on the fear to see what it might be like, but then they can take it off again. It gives them practice in handling the emotions, whether real or pretend.

ewe are here said...

I'ts a fine line... wanting them to not fear life, trying new things, stretching their wings ... while at the same time wanting them to have a healthy respect for true danger.

It sounds like you're on the right path.