When Two gets scared or upset, most of the time it's the normal, kid kind of scared. I wake up in the morning to find him and three extra pillows in bed with me, and I know that he tiptoed in at some point in the night, thanks to a nightmare. He never wakes me up when he comes in - at least not deliberately - and once he's in bed with mommy the fear melts away and he sleeps, even though my snoring (what, I don't snore! who put that in there!? I demand a new editor!).
But occasionally, it's a lot more than that. Along with my chin, he inherited my panic disorder, and when combined with some of his (otherwise not so noticeable) sensory challenges, it can make a big. fat. mess of whatever he's trying hard to do. What happens is this: Two visualizes how something will go, he prepares himself for it, and then something changes. It can be as simple as going to swim practice and hearing thunder on the way: that will mean dry-land training instead of swimming in the pool. When it happens - and it doesn't always happen when he experiences a sudden shift like that, so it's always up in the air for us - but when it does, he melts. He is afraid of whatever new thing has come upon him, as afraid as you would be if you heard a burglar in the middle of the night. He stops hearing what we say, he stops everything but his pitiable crying that "he just can't do" whatever it is that he is being asked to do. As a parent, I want to howl in frustration and cry for him all at the same time. I know how he's feeling, and I can barely fix such things inside myself. How can I fix them for him?
This has been happening for years, but this summer he's a little more mature and therefore able to discuss these attacks, especially when they're over and we're safely home. During our conversations in the past months we've decided to call his overwhelming fears The Scaries. He says they descend upon him from the air like so many thin-limbed, sharp-faced little monsters; they climb on his back, and they fill him with fear - through his ears, his eyes, even through his skin. When they come, his ears stop up, he can't stand to be touched, and he wants nothing more than to get away from the situation as fast as he can. The best thing I can think of to tell him in our conversations is this: The Scaries have no right to attack you, they have no right to make you feel anything at all. When you feel them coming, you have to turn and fight with everything you have. You have to swing your sword, you have to call out to God, you have to be braver than St. George himself. And the worst thing I can think of to tell him is this: The Scaries will never stop trying. He will never be able to stop fighting. If he lets them, they will make his life so small it will exist in one room only. They are, in fact, a cross he will carry, likely to the end of his life.
But he can fight. And we can pray. And he can wear his St. George medal to remind him to be as brave as a man that legend says slayed a dragon, but who in reality was braver yet, and went to his death as a martyr for Christ under Diocletian. In fact, having The Scaries on your back is not a martyrdom at all, although it, too, requires bravery, Instead, it is a chance to focus on what matters most of all in this life: to never let The Scaries or anything else come between you and Christ. If The Scaries can keep Two and I constantly pressing towards that goal, then they are worth the fear, indeed.
And that way, they will not have won: not a single battle, and certainly not the war.