Szyperski: Four months and changeWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | email@example.com
Dec. 13. That’s the day my 7-year-old decided she didn’t really want to go to school anymore. I shouldn’t say decided, as there’s much more to it than that. Rather, Dec. 13 is the day my daughter’s anxiety told her it was stronger than she was and, for some reason, she believed it.
My oldest clung to me for the first three years of his life. I wondered how either of us would ever be able to let go long enough to get through a school day. When that day did come, however, he skipped merrily off with the other preschoolers and hasn’t looked back.
My second child, however, the one who was fine sleeping in her own bed and didn’t mind the company of strangers all that much from birth to 2 years old, started her clinging when I would have assumed it was safe to say she wasn’t the clingy type. She dug her heals in when it was time to make that transition to school and has never completely let them come free.
With the help of patient teachers and a semi-patient mother, she made it through preschool. She fought the good fight, shed many a tear and managed to never belt out a single note at any of her preschool performances, yet we made it. We even made it through kindergarten and half of first grade. Tears were still shed along the way and uncertainty was still the norm, but school was generally an OK thing.
Then a kid vomited.
A classmate vomited in my daughter’s presence in the school library and threw my daughter’s academic life into quite the tizzy. As a seasoned parent of three, with decades of child care experience, I don’t find vomit particularly traumatic. I don’t like it, but it happens. My daughter, on the other hand, is quite a bit more gun shy about the whole ordeal.
I wasn’t there to know for sure, but my guess is that she panicked. The vomit was likely cleaned up within a few minutes, but the panic instead pitched camp in her brain and opted to stay much longer than the recommended fight or flight stopover. Before we could grasp what was happening, the anxiety took hold of just about everything in its relentless path. Fear of vomit became fear of the school library, which became fear of school, which became fear of just about everything. It was like the “Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” story gone even more horribly wrong because it was actually happening to us. All of us.
I’m sure there is something we could have done, something we could have said to nip her fear in the bud, but whatever that something was we didn’t quite land on in time. How easy it is to wonder how the house got so messy or where those extra 20 pounds suddenly came from; how hard it is to determine which five-minute seemingly innocuous incident might consume the next four months and 17 days of your life.
Truth be told, life didn’t exactly change in five minutes. If you leave late for a meeting and end up in a traffic jam that makes you even later, it wasn’t the traffic jam that made you late. My child already had school anxiety before she encountered the Vomit That Will Live in Infamy, but that extra traffic jam surely didn’t help matters.
Over the past four months and some change, we have been through days of no school, half days of school, begging, pleading, kicking and screaming. Many hopeless days and a few hopeful ones, but mostly all-around, where-do-we-turn-next uncertainty. I know there are much, much worse things to deal with in life, but I came across quite a few moments when I could barely think of any. In fact, there were several moments when I could see nothing but complete and utter failure with no turnaround in sight.
After ever-so-slowly digging and clawing our way back to some sense of normalcy, my daughter rode the bus to and from school on April 30. After four and a half months of “your child has been recorded as absent or late” calls every single school day, my phone finally remained silent at 9:50 am. The next day she even made her own breakfast, dressed without a fight, packed her own lunch, made sure she had her homework and literally ran out the door to catch the bus. Hallelujah.
I can’t help but wonder why. Why do we go through these things? What do we get out of them? I will no doubt ponder the past four months, but for now I’m going to just bask in the change.
Shannon Szyperski and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.