I “come out” as an anxious person to my students about half way through any class, once we’ve had a few “kumbaya” moments. Lately, I’m wondering about how and when I’ll tell my son.
I realize he probably already knows.
Consider the origin of this fear, at least, the first instantiation of it: In first grade, Jen K. invited me to her house after school. I remember sitting on the bus, looking at her house, which was big and fancy looking to my little eyes. It wasn’t like my house and, she boasted, there was a pool. I wanted to go. I wanted to see inside that big house and swim in that pool. She told me her mother would call my mother for a playdate. She got off the bus and I stayed, thinking about what that would be like, what the inside of the house would look like, what kind of toys she had, and what games we would play.
Her mom did, indeed, call my mom. I said I didn’t want to go. I cried. I remember asking my mom questions: what would I say to her? how would I know how to play the games she played? what if everything was different from how things were “here”, at my home?
In school, I had lots of friends. I was loud, playful, always laughing, and generally in trouble for talking too much. I was a regular and jovial kid. I was more than regular, I was social and, even, popular. People wanted to play with me because I was imaginative, fun, and loud.
Outside of classrooms and organized activities, I was alone. I played a lot of games in my head, almost completely silent.
My mom let it pass and when Jen’s mom called again, the same thing happened. This occurred three times and Jen stopped sitting with me on the bus. Then, my mom was concerned.
My mother set up a play date and drove me over, without asking me. I was terrified. I kicked and cried. I felt lumps in my throat.
I can’t explain this, I can only retell it. It’s the first occurrence of many. I cancelled RSVPs to childhood parties too. Before parties, play dates, and phone calls to friends, I was terrified and uncomfortable.
I still am.
I want to tell this story better—with some reflection of insight, maybe even details that make it “writerly”. It’s not a well told story and it can’t be. I don’t understand it and I still experience this kind of anxiety before any outing. My partner’s gotten used to it, has coached me through it, and I can get myself out to some lunch dates with colleagues or nights out with a few girls, but it’s not easy.
Now, Avery is a new reason to see people. We go to yoga classes, park dates, and some early morning get togethers. I think about him and not my own fear, but I still can’t always get it together. He has to see this. He has to know that I’m nervous. Does he feel nervous because I am? Am I giving him this same anxious feeling? Is it genetic? Will he see me as lonely?
I joke with my students that, when I get anxious, my tongue feels huge so they’ll know I’m nervous because I’ll trip over my words. They always laugh and I mimic what it will sound like so that my anxiety is—and might become—a performance, something I can control.
Being a mother with anxiety is something I thought about all through pregnancy, but I didn’t get anywhere besides the usual worry. I haven’t gotten to a place where I can understand it, understand how to tell Avery about it, and control it for him. I’m worried about being worried, but I’m conscious of it.
I’m practicing too. I’m getting out the door and talking.