Anxiety, Fear and The Buddha

Emma’s new school begins Thursday.  I’m grateful for this because the pulling sensation in my stomach coupled with the constriction in my chest is increasing with each passing day.  As awful as that feels, it’s a familiar feeling, one I know to identify as anxiety and it feels better than the feeling of fear AND anxiety I’m going to feel Thursday morning when Emma looks at me with abject terror and says, “Please Mommy.  I don’t want to go to new school.  We go together.  You and me together.”

When I explain to Emma, as I have every day for the past two weeks, that I will be with her, when I explain that I am going to go into her classroom with her to meet her teachers for the first time, because the school has not returned any of my phone calls or emails since we returned from Colorado, when they explain how busy they’ve been, when they say that the assistant principal did, after all, reach out to me and whose name, phone number and email address I scribbled on a piece of paper because I was in Jerusalem at the time and cannot find that scrap of paper, I will nod my head.

I will hand someone the letter I’ve written about Emma so they can better help her and understand what she needs.  The letter that Emma would not participate in writing with me, but instead wandered off, insisting that she be able to watch the Hubble Imax theatre movie in our bedroom instead.  I will thrust that letter into her teacher’s hands and hope she will get around to reading it.  None of this is happening the way I envisioned it.  None of my plans, while in Colorado have been put into action because the school was closed, not a soul was around by the time we returned to the city.  So I will make some utterance of understanding, just as I did two minutes ago when I finally got through to the Office of Public Transportation who was unaware Emma was attending a new school, which means there will not be a bus for her until this gets straightened out.  It will require a dozen more phone calls to her new school who hasn’t picked up their phone, a dozen more messages like the one I left this morning will be left, and finally I will physically go to the school and find someone to speak to face to face because leaving endless messages on various extensions is an exercise in futility.   I know this.

In between writing this post I will pick up the phone and call several more times, just in case, just on the off-chance an actual human being will pick up and miraculously connect me to someone who knows that Emma is enrolled in their school and will be kind enough and compassionate enough to understand how big a deal this is for her.   Someone who will understand the enormity of this next step in Emma’s life.  Someone who will hear me when I say she is anxious.  Someone who will not judge me for wanting to ease Emma into her new school and will be kind to both Emma and me when we arrive.  Someone who will agree to work with me in these next few days or weeks, or however long it might take before that anxiety, that terror subsides.  Someone who will honor those feelings and not dismiss them.  And in the meantime while I try desperately to find that person who may not exist, I can, at the very least, be that person for my daughter.

I am walking that precarious fine line of honoring her feelings, while not changing the subject or saying anything that might encourage more fear and anxiety.  Identifying my own feelings, helps me in keeping my own overwhelm at bay, so that I might better help Em manage her own.  I try to reassure Emma, but not promise things I cannot know or keep.  This requires finesse, calm, tact, a level head, the knowledge of when to remain quiet and when to speak, this requires things I do not possess, but am trying to learn.

“I don’t want to go to a new school,” Emma said again yesterday.

“It’s scary to go somewhere new,” I answered as she put her head on my shoulder.

Em nodded,  “I don’t like the new school.  I’m scared, Mommy.”

“New things can be scary, Emmy.  But on Thursday I’m going to go with you.  I’m going to meet your new teachers with you.  And then when you are safe, I’m going to go for just a little while and then I’ll come back and we’ll go somewhere together.  Somewhere fun.  Where would you like to go?”

“Mommy will be right back.”

“That’s right.  Where would you like to go after your first day of school?”

I want to go to the big carousel and the zoo,” Emma said.

“Okay.  That’s what we’ll do then,” I promised.  I’ve cleared my calendar for both Thursday and Friday.  I am planning on hanging around the vicinity of her new school, I will be there to pick her up, I will go with her in the morning, I will photograph her bus driver and the bus, her teachers, her classroom, her classmates.  I will go over these photographs with her on the weekend.  It will take what it takes.  I can’t remove her fears, but I can try to ease them.

Over the weekend I took Em shopping for a new dress to wear to school.  We didn’t find one, but we did find some other things for her to wear.  On the way to the store Emma stopped in front of a shop window and said, “Look!  It’s a Buddha.  It’s a wonderful Buddha!”

And in that moment we were both happy.

37 responses to “Anxiety, Fear and The Buddha

  1. I was so anxious over K going back to school today, I slept with my childhood teddy bear last night. No joke. I basically cried myself to sleep, and was doing anything to try and ease my fears. Katie wet the bed…I know she is also anxious, though she won’t admit it/say so. I try to bring up the positives of school, but I am sure she can feel my tension. I don’t feel ready to deal with school again…at all. Didn’t it JUST end? Sigh…

  2. Chou Chou Scantlin

    Use your strength, beautiful writer! Write Emma a story about the wonderful adventure that is school. Draw pictures together to make a book about it. In it, she will meet Buddha teachers, many strange new creatures, and some scary monsters. School monsters who growl, and Emma tames with a laugh and a smile. Strange new sights and sounds and smells, which tickle and squeeze, and Emma laughs and learns, and becomes a beautiful hero-woman who is never scared. Have her compose a special “scary school dance”, and applaud the performance. And laugh and laugh and laugh.
    Valor: The strength of mind to meet danger with fearlessness. I send my best angels to carry you both to joyful victory❤

  3. You are such an amazing Mom and beautiful advocate for your daughter. There just isn’t another way to be and your knowing that and stuffing the stress and anxiety for her sake is just part of the job. No, it isn’t the perfectly planed way you wanted to start the school year and there is a lot that could happen…. but… you have done all that can be done with what has worked out. She has your consistant and loving support and I will pray that she has a successful day with someone who cares and will read the note at the START of the day, take the time and acknowledge her as she needs it. You will most likely have a day of ringing your hands and hovering just outside the school grounds and the best thing I can say is I hope you are wasting your time and to bring some nice lotion so you can have some extra soft hands when you pick her up. ❤ Hope you have a beautiful after school outing.

    • Thank you Barbara… Your comment made me think about how to get the letter to her teacher before school begins. So I will be going over to the school tomorrow (I went this afternoon, but was told no one will be there until tomorrow) to give it to her teachers and the administrator/coordinator.

  4. These are lovely comments and poetic, above. Piggybacking off of them with respect for their natural beauty, I have a slightly different take from my own experience as a highly anxious, change resistant person of Emma’s tribe.

    This is a chance to model for Emma that she is not alone in her fear and anxiety, and there are healthy and effective ways of dealing with them together that she can remember and do on her own (with you in her head when you are not technically there).

    In the case of a kid who may take things literally, it might not be good to tell her she will ever be fear-free, or to imply that you yourself are fear-free (to model “stuffing.”) Also, in the case of yourself, it is not healthy.

    When you say “It is scary” that is good; and it might be a great opening for a chance to say, “When I am scared, it helps me to (if this is true [it probably is– try it!] breathe really really deep, like this, trying to get the air allll the way into my belly. The air can stop the boom, watch.” Then you breathe deep slow dancerly with the diphragm, emphasizing with your arms so it is clear what you are doing, and get her to imitate. “And… out” in which you breathe out into a slump of relaxation. Do this a few times and it really does help me….

    Then you can also tell her the secret way, for when you are alone, which is this:

    When you don’t want anyone to know you are doing it you can just slump your hands. You are sitting there, breathe in with fists, and when you breathe out slowly, slump your hands (flop) on your legs. Nobody will know.

    I think this helps for two reasons. Autistics do not multi-task well, so if we are doing something like this, we are not doing the worrying thing we were doing before, and also, more oxygen feels better.

    Practice these a lot and she will have a good tool for anxiety that has served me well. Practice modeling a lot of telling the truth about your feelings which is a thing you already do and she will have a leg up on explaining and understanding emotions better than many in our community which she already does: congrats on that: you have done well. 🙂

    Part two. I think being brave is where you are afraid and you do it anyway. If you were really fearless then it would be no big deal to do it, but if you do it while having fear, then that is when you are kicking ass.

    OK over and out for now.

    Wait, PS. The part about writing stories, I agree with that part. Just that the stories shouldn’t contain a world with no fear. The stories should contain a magical world but one with no potential lies. That is my slight Autistic edit.

    • Thank you so much Ib for this well thought step by step directive. It will serve me AND Em well. Printing out, because as you know, I am a SLOOOOOOWWWWWWW learner and it often takes many readings before I can really inhabit an idea. Thankfully the first breathing exercise we both do something similar to what you’ve described. We call it “balloon breath” I think one of her OTs came up with it years ago. It has helped and is a good reminder. The second piece – how to do this so no one will know, is one I had not heard of, so will try. For now, this is not something Em will likely use, but I will!
      And telling the truth… yes, why is it that as adults we aren’t suppose to feel fear, ever be wrong, make mistakes etc. Such an odd set of unspoken rules for us adults and completely ridiculous as we continue to do and feel all those things right up until the day we die.
      Sending you love, love, love!

  5. I know…

    We are so good at controlling and planning every little aspect. We rein in impulse and level our reaction. We are introspective, resilient, anticipators of endless possibility – and as parents set ourselves up to mitigate between our beautiful children and the neuromajority (as H refers to it … ‘out there’).

    We read reaction, understand the bigger meaning of a tiny movement, and help our children navigate their way. Extreme anticipation and organization are useful much of the time… but there are times when we are not able to rein it all in, because it is not within our control – and that is hard.

    Big picture though, we are doing more than that. We are also working to shift the understanding ‘out there’ to enable teachers, school systems, and others – to see those who experience the world differently – differently.

    I expect that Emma will have some amazing experiences – and some – not so amazing – perhaps even heart-wrenching… but Emma is an important part of something here.

    And they may not understand it immediately, but that school is wonderfully fortunate to be getting two new teachers: Emma and you!!

    Hugs!!

  6. Chou Chou Scantlin

    Excellent, Ibby! I too am an autist, and must constantly manage fear. I am also the mother of a Navy SEAL, who is very much like me. Both these mothers are excellent and wise. I agree with all you say, but process in magical terms of pretend and visual thinking. You have wonderfully covered the literal nuts and bolts. I agree the fear must be aknowleged. I made them into scary monsters, but that may not work for the more literal. I have not met Emma, but she appears to be so very much like the child I was. I am facing MY fear by reaching out, inspired by Emma’s wonderful mother. I am so happy to meet you! XO!

    • Aww… Chou Chou! Every time Em gets up to sing and dance I think of you and the bouquet of flowers out of tissue you made for yourself as a child. Em and I haven’t made that tissue paper bouquet yet, but we will! Thank you dear friend. XXX

  7. I am completely horrified that no one at the school has been in touch with you! Doesn’t she have an IEP? Is transportation written into her IEP? Has the teacher signed off on all of her goals. I don’t want to increase your anxiety or anything but I would not send my daughter without first meeting with every teacher and therapist who would be working with her to make sure they understand all of her requirements and needs. They need to be written in and signed off on. I’d find an advocate or hire one and go in guns blazing! At least with the advocate there you can still be nice and say ‘is that what the law says?’ in your sweetest voice turning to the advocate who will clarify the law in case the school doesn’t understand. You should not have to be dealing with this level of anxiety and uncertainty while trying to reassure her anxiety too.

    • Because of the insanity that is the BOE in New York City we didn’t get a recommendation until the last week of June. So all of this has happened fairly quickly and as we’ve been away for almost the entire summer it made for some misunderstandings and miscommunication. But your point about the advocate is a good one and we will certainly employ if and when it’s needed. I also appreciate your thought about meeting everyone beforehand. We are hoping to do just that tomorrow. No one was there when I went this afternoon!

  8. Dear Chou Chou, I loved the monsters and the Buddhas! I could relate to that a lot! I do not think fictional or magical truth is the same as potential lies. Fictional truth like acknowledging monsters is totally a type of truth. I was worried only about the part where she would never be fearful again, because that is too close to the home of real life to be totally fictionalized so it might be a potential confusion point, or it would have for the child I was. I am delighted to meet you as well! And please thank your Navy SEAL for service to our country next time you are together. XOXO!

  9. Chou Chou Scantlin

    Delighted, Ibby! Thank you so! I will go slay monsters today. Happy blessings and much grace to all! XO!

  10. I can’t remember how I found your blog a few weeks ago, but have been reading and grateful every day, dipping into the archives and getting to know your story. My Lucy just started her new school today and I have no idea if we’ve prepared correctly; I too am a quivering ball of anxiety and, somewhere in there, mostly buried but still in there, hopefulness. Thanks for writing this.

  11. At least Emma somewhat understands her anxiety and can communicate it to you. That is huge, something Marisa has never had.

    On another note, I am horrified the school is ignoring your constant calls! At this point, shouldn’t everything be written in the IEP? Transportation included?

    Sending ((((HUGS)))) your way that you and Emma both get through this stressful week! Marisa started school two weeks ago and we’re still having aggression issues. 😦 Adjustments suck.

  12. Hang tough, my friend. I am thinking of you and Emma!

  13. You can do this. I know. Both boys have had an unexpectedly rough first week of school, and yet somehow, the world has carried on. Ibby and Chou Chou are so on track with their wisdom. You are well served by such friends.
    I’ve tried often to “stay strong” for my children, yet I’ve found their biggest steps forward have come when they’ve seen me break. Seeing that Mom can be vulnerable and flawed and still move forward showed them to let go of unreasonable expectations and simply live the life in front of them.

  14. I had the same concern as Ibby as far as the stories go. If there is too sharp a contrast between the story you make about school and reality it could have the opposite effect.

    Since Emma can no doubt tell you are feeling anxious about this yourself when you discuss it beyond just saying that new things are scary what would happen if you said how that this change also makes you anxious while explaining why you want to cope with the anxiety of the change because in the long run it has all those beneficial things you want for her.

    As for bravery I agree on that point too. For some reason I have no fear when it comes to physically dangerous things. I rappelled down mountains cheerfully and with as big leaps as I was allowed to take, climbed glaciers and did high level rapids in a canoe. I noticed that others were sometimes afraid but it wasn’t brave for me to do any of that as people would comment as it didn’t scare me on iota.

    Going to a party where I only know say my brother on the hand is truly terrifying but no one will say how brave you are about that. (Well my brother’s acknowledgement goes something along the lines of handing me a pre-party beer and saying, “Have a beer. You will need it” I suppose that counts? )

    I think a useful skill that to be honest I am only good about with certain aspects of my life is recognizing when there is nothing we can do about aspects of a situation. I know I am horrible at that in most life things but I am better than average for some reason when things like travel related issues go horribly awry. As Emma’s mother you can’t just say well all this is screwed up and I can’t do anything about it. You can’t go back in time either though, and make those people be around when they were not and get everything sorted out the way you envisioned it (that’s a similar trap as a potential social story really) You have to go forward and I think sharing more with Emma how you feel about certain things and modeling for her how you will move on and what you hope to gain might help you both.

    Sounds like with all the mess you will have a lot to deal with as it is so for you own health follow Ibby’s advice there.

  15. Gareeth – your description of your brother casually thrusting a beer at you with “You’ll need it” as acknowledgement of doing that which is frightening, was powerful. I guess the good news is he was at a party with you and at least had some rough idea that it was difficult for you? Or is that a stretch?Anyway, yes, talking with Em honestly about my own fear and anxiety, without causing her more concern and worry is a good suggestion.

  16. Make like a Buddha!

    Young cygnet
    Makes little ripples
    In the pond

    Young cygnets
    Make lots of ripples
    In the pond

    Cob and Pen
    Leave no wake
    Upon the surface

    Cygnets
    Learn best
    In untroubled waters

  17. Stands with feet and toes splayed,
    arms at sides,
    extends neck breathes,
    breathes,
    mind emptying,
    in this moment,
    this beautiful moment…
    *Cygnet pose

  18. There is so much autism in Buddhism.

  19. Caring. Concern. Empathy. Why can’t the places we send our children to be educated be built on these pillars? Why must you be left feeling alone in your attempt to provide a successful transition for Emma? I am so sorry you have to go through this and with the very system that is supposed to be there for your child. How many times have we both written about this Ariane? Too many. And bottom line, there is no accountability. None. I am going to stop now because I feel my blood pressure rising. Peace to you my friend.

  20. Well I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks it’s here again oh man! I’ve had the it’s a school year again jitters for about a week. I’m thanking god that my youngest boy is at a ABA school. I dread him going back to the regular school board. My eldest went back today. Im not ready to go though another hard year. He’s looking forward to class trips and seeing friends but not the school work. We do a lot of deep breathing here too. Self regulation is what we call it. If we try to we can make anxiety a lot better. Today was easy it’s the rest of the year that’s got me worried. Hope your Emma had a great first day. It’s hard going some where new. It’s great that you can explaine stuff to her and she respond. She’s really a qutie. School will be grand for her. New friends too. My youngest loves his ABA school cause his friends really get him. My eldest loves his school cause his friends get him. I pray Emma has the same experience, that she makes friends with kids that get her. Have a great start to your new year! I’m hoping the year will be kind.

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