Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Darkest Before the Dawn

Yesterday was an emotional day. We walked Ava to school in the morning, settled her into her classroom, met her warm and lovely teacher, and I felt like a million bucks as a parent when I walked home with William. Ava was beaming, and excited, and I knew she was going to have a wonderful day.

William's mid-afternoon appointment with a child psychologist loomed over me like a date with the firing squad. I set it up with the best possible intentions of helping him manage his anxiety about preschool in particular, but as the time drew near I tried to talk myself out if it. "He's not as bad as I thought," I whispered to myself. "He's only 4, and he'll outgrow this clinginess. Maybe I jumped the gun."

The allotted time arrived, and we went to the appointment. The psychologist asked me to leave the kids in the waiting area and come to talk with her on my own. I was under the impression that part was only going to take a few minutes, since we had discussed the issue at length on the phone when I booked the appointment, but she wanted to spend the whole appointment just with me, offering strategies to try at home to better prepare him for his first day of preschool.

I told William and Ava that I would be right back, and followed her down the hall. We sat down and began talking, and I had that creeping feeling of dread, for I knew there was no way he was going to stay in the waiting room without me. Sure enough, five minutes in, the door opened and there he was, tears on his cheeks. He ran to me, snuggled in, and wasn't going to budge without a fight.

The psychologist asked me what would happen if I took him back to the waiting area, and I said, "He'll scream and cling and make the receptionist very uncomfortable, and we'll end up going home." I was there to find help for this exact issue, and when she asked the question, I realized how deeply judged I felt for William's behaviours, and how hard this summer has been for both of us.

We are engaged in a dance. He is afraid, and clings to me, and I feel like a bad parent, and I try to take a tough approach, and a bad situation goes quickly to its worst extreme. I told the psychologist that all summer long, family members, friends and complete strangers in stores have been giving me advice on how to handle William's attachment to me. I feel like I've tried everything I know how to do, from tough love, to giving in, and every variation in between, and I'm getting the strong message that I haven't been doing the right things.

It's hard for my personality type to fail. I prefer to succeed; to try new approaches until I find the one that works, and then hit it out of the park. I haven't had that "Aha!" moment yet with William, and I'm deeply weary of the endless advice from others who have never experienced what I'm going through, but who feel entitled to tell me how I should improve on handling it.

William stayed with me while we talked, and when I came home, I took a few minutes in my bedroom by myself, to let go of the excess shame and devastation through the wonderful outlet of tears. I thought that calling the psychologist was the end of my rope, but it turns out that facing my own limitations and embarrassment in the middle of the session was the lowest point I've had in this process. I know it will improve from here, but I needed to confront my own fears and sadness head on. I want things to be different for William, to help him build his confidence, but I recognize that I must accept him for who he is before any lasting changes can be made. Sometimes we do our best as parents and it's still not nearly enough.

After dinner, I practiced some of the psychologist's excellent suggestions with William. We role played pick up and drop off at preschool, with him playing both himself and me, and I think it was a powerful exercise for both of us. I felt his worry, and I hope he felt my capability. I nearly cried when he reassured me, "Don't worry, Weeum, I'm coming back for you after lunch."

We'll keep trying variations on her suggestions, and if I feel proactive, like I can actually do something, I don't feel so handcuffed to help my beloved boy. It's always darkest before the dawn, and if I squint and use a bit of my imagination, I can see light around the edges of this problem, just enough to let some faith in.

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