08 Apr Camp Anxiety
It was a tough week for F. We signed her up for a week of explorer’s camp that took her all over the city to parks and museums. It sounded like a great program, but her anxiety has come back and her fear of the subway was overwhelming.
It started on Sunday. We were at the playground, killing a little time before she was scheduled to be at a birthday party. I was playing basketball and she was roller blading around close by. I was tied 9-9 in a game against a 12 year old boy and we were getting ready to play the final point when we heard a commotion on the street on the other side of the playground. She was nervous but I told her not to worry about it. I was wrong. About 30 seconds later a young man came loping across the court towards me. He was pursued by another man yelling “Stop Him!!”
I had competing instincts. I moved to get in front of the man to slow him down but I also knew that I had to take care of my daughter. I wasn’t worried that he would hurt her, but I knew that she would be scared. As he approached he snorted, “Don’t touch me! I got a gun in my pocket!”
At that I gently moved aside towards my nervous daughter. The man’s pursuer charged on, but not without hitting me with a withering stare as he shouted, “Why didn’t you fucking stop him?!?” He didn’t give me time to explain.
A few moments later a woman came stumbling after. At this point my daughter was desperately tugging on me and screaming that we had to go. I remained calm though and tried to find out whether or not she had called the police. “He stole my phone, I couldn’t,” she gasped and then stumbled on.
My daughter was frantic, but I felt a duty to call the police. I had almost no doubt that the offender didn’t have a gun, but also felt that I had an obligation to tell what I knew to the police. I also thought it was important to model calm behavior in a difficult situation. I know that my mother’s frantic energy in stressful situations has had negative repercussions for me. Even at that moment I wondered about the nature and nurture of it all.
I calmly explained to my daughter that it was important to help these people, but she was still frantic. I called 911 and held her close to me. I feel like I was doing a pretty good job of staying calm and focused up until the point where the 911 operator couldn’t spell the cross streets and had no idea about the geography of Brooklyn. Sometimes when I struggle to stay calm in the face of my daughter’s overwhelming energy I find that my own tension slips out in other directions. I snapped at the operator and got off as quickly as I could.
On the way out of the playground we happened upon the victims clog’s. She had apparently abandoned them in her quest for speed. I gathered them up and placed them on a table so that no one would think they were abandoned. When F goes into panic mode she’s like a trapped animal, and even that slight hesitation, of picking up the shoes, sent her into hysterics. As we moved away from the park she started to calm down. However, as we paused to enter her friend’s house a cop car came screeching by. Instinctively I hailed it but this sent F back into a panic. I tried to tell them what I knew, but they were more frantic than my daughter. Apparently another officer had apprehended a suspect. I waved them on.
At first she didn’t want to stay at the party but eventually she calmed down. When I picked her up afterwards she was more relaxed but still had a vaguely haunted look. On the way home she stuck close to me. It wasn’t that much of a surprise when she refused to go to camp the next morning. When she gets anxious her energy can be relentless and it’s incredibly difficult to avoid responding to it in less than positive ways. However, reflecting on the difficulty of the previous days encounter helped me to stay patient and calm. After awhile I got her out of the house and on the way. Often times in the past her anxiety peaks before she has to do something that troubles her, and once she gets to the place, or even,t she has worked through a lot of her anxiousness.
F moaned and complained for most of the ride to camp. When we got there she clung to me. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, do I have to go? Do I have to? Why do I have to go,” she chattered. A good friend of hers was there and he came over to play and she relaxed a little. I took her over to talk to a counselor and explained her fear of the subway. The counselor was extremely supportive and offered to hold her hand and sit with her the whole way. As soon as she saw that the staff wasn’t going to dismiss her fears or make her feel bad about herself she lightened up. She wasn’t ready to let me go but I could tell that we were going to be ok. A few minutes later she came over and gave me a kiss. “I don’t want to go on the subway,” she blurted out then ran off, pausing to call over her shoulder, “I’ll see you later.”
I left feeling pretty good about how well I’d handled it. Her nervous energy can be overwhelming. It would have been so much easier in many ways just to let her stay home, but I also knew that it would just forestall the inevitable. It’s hard to stay supportive and loving when she’s freaking out the way that she does, and I don’t always do so well.
Her complaints continued all week long. On Thursday, I brought her little sister, H, with me to drop her off. Despite F’s moans and cries, H declared that she wanted to go as well. She wouldn’t back down. I thought it might help F to have H around so off she went. We heard later that all had gone great and H wanted to go again today. My wife and I have been struggling to make time to focus on our film project. We need to get it done, and having the kids around during the week has made it more difficult. The struggle to give our kids direct attention, while also getting work done takes a severe emotional toll on us. So we were pretty excited to have them both going off for the day again.
However, F started in early with complaints. The anxiety compounded on the way to camp and by the time we got there she was moaning and hanging on me. As I did all week, I agreed to stay until she was comfortable. However, her super anxiety took a toll on Harper, and she decided that she didn’t want to go. That’s when I lost it.
With a finger pointed sternly at her face I croaked through gritted teeth, “OK, you can come home, but you are not watching TV and you are not bothering us. We have to work. You ask me why you have to, it’s because we have to work and I’m not spending the day fighting with you. The problem is that you ask and ask and ask but you don’t listen. Why do you have to go? Because we have other things to do besides watch over you.
“OK, I’ll go if you’re just going to yell at me.”
I wasn’t yelling, but I wasn’t nice, and I wasn’t happy with myself. It was too late though the damage was done. Her feelings were hurt, and I had acted like a jerk. I had resigned myself to her coming back with me, if only because I didn’t expect to turn H around. I knew from experience that if she said she didn’t want to go then she wasn’t going, so the day was ruined for working anyway and I partly blamed F for that. Emotions are complex, and as much as we want to control them we can’t. I’m still sitting here beating myself up over snapping at her. However, I also forgive myself, because i know that there is nothing positive that will come from over thinking it. The fact is, I could have been more supportive. To a large degree I was. I hung out with her and H and kept my cool despite her powerful energy for over an hour. I’m not perfect though and sometimes I snap. I am happy though, that I snap a lot less often than I used to, and own up to my failings as quickly as possible.
In the end F changed her mind and wanted to go. H and I watched the group march off the subway, F looked fearful but resilient. At home I handed H off to her mom and sat down to write. I feel a bit better for having spit it all out, but I still have that bad taste in my mouth that will take a while to slip away.