In 5th grade I was assigned the task of compiling a story book of my then, 10 short years of life. I painstakingly choose flattering pictures of myself, family, and friends and carefully placed them in a photo album that surely did not have acid free photo paper. I wrote paragraphs detailing my carefree days of playing soccer, taking dance lessons, and spending summers on the Connecticut shoreline. My mom can be credited with titling my “book”: The Never-Say-Good bye Girl.
I have fond memories of growing up as part of a big family during a time when my parents would often host our family’s frequent gatherings held to celebrate any event that warranted multiple ricotta cheese stuffed entrees. There was a lot of loud “talking” and “singing” that resulted from the homemade wine being dished out. Cousins played games of our own invention late into the evening. As the parties wound down one would hope my relatives would be of the right mind and fortitude to make an appropriate exit. That is to say: Leave the house without letting Anissa know. Sounds strange, I know, but very necessary. I would throw an absolute fit when anyone would leave our house. My out bursts weren’t geared to any one person or group of people in particular. There was no known trigger other than hearing the bell hanging from my parents’ front door knob jingle as guests were leaving. I just didn’t want to say good bye. So, instead of being witness to the crying and carrying on that was sure to occur, they had to SNEAK out of the house. Grown adults had to hurriedly SNEAK out to their cars. This was definitely a better option than being responsible for setting me off and leaving my parents with an inconsolable child – the hostess gift that no one wanted.
I vividly recall another time, when my mom came to pick me up from my friend’s house after a weekend sleepover and I did not want to leave. In fact, I grasped on to my friend’s front door with all the might an eight year old girl could muster nearly pulling it off the hinges and screamed as the adults attempted to loosen my grip and throw me into the car. My poor mother. (Also, for the record, the friend I am referencing is still a friend 30 years later. She will back up my story. Thankfully, it wasn’t that traumatic of an experience for her. Hi Suz!)
Maybe you could explain my behavior as the social butterfly in me not wanting the party to end. It was something else. My pediatrician called it Separation Anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a common stage experienced by babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers alike. Now that I have my own kids I am certain that my separation anxiety is the real deal and not something I will ever grow out of. It tapered off a bit while in my self-absorbed teen and college years because clearly, “Nothing bad will EVER happen to me.” It came back with a vengeance after I had a family of my own to worry about. As much as I need my time away from my little people and the daily grind of being a mom, it is such an anxiety ridden experience for me. My kids are in good hands when I leave so I’m not worried about their well-being from that perspective. It’s all the ‘what ifs’ that are swirling in my mind. My perceived intuition and superstitions get the best of me. Now I ALWAYS think “Something bad is going to happen to me!!” I have missed travel opportunities (Germany! Dubai! Denver! California!) because of these feelings of dread. I give myself agita before every solo night away. I write ‘good bye notes’ and tell my husband explicitly where he can find my stash of mementos I’ve tucked away for each of our kids…oh, the DRAMA of it all!
I’m beginning to wonder if I am projecting my feelings on to my children. My sons don’t let me leave the house without waving to me until my car is out of sight. My daughter doesn’t let my husband or me step out of the house for a minute without crying and attempting to track down our last known whereabouts. I now find myself in the same position my friends and family were in back in the day sneaking out so as not to disturb her mood. How’s that for a circle of life moment. Given my history, I would love to provide my children with tools to overcome these feelings. I struggle with knowing how since I continually perpetuate the condition in my own mind.
Here’s what I have so far…In moments when my children are hesitant and insecure, I reassure them that they will be safe and taken care of while I’m gone. That Mommy will be back soon. (I often refer to a point of reference they understand more than time, for example: after snack). To take deep breaths and hug Foxy* (*insert the favorite stuffed animal of the week here) when you are missing Mommy. I also divert their attention from the fact that I’m leaving with all the shiny things we keep around the house to entertain them. So to recap: Everything is ok. Everything will be ok. Breathe. Get hugs. Distractions help.
This was message was brought to you from the school of Recovering Stage 5 Clingers.