So, Erica made friends with a bee today.
She decided that the best way to make friends with a bee was to stroke it and then to grab it so she could give it a cuddle. It did not go well. She was very angry with the bee, but mostly she was angry with me.
And it was really, really hard because I knew that, besides popping some lavender oil on the sting, (or where I thought the sting was because she wouldn’t let me see properly) there was nothing that I could do. I had to wait for the pain to pass and give her cuddles while she got through her hand really hurting. It wasn’t only the pain but also the confusion of not really knowing what was going on and not really connecting it to the bee. Mostly she just looked like she was thinking: “Mummy, why did you let this happen to me?!”
As I was sitting there cuddling a grumpy baby, it got me thinking. We’ve been having problems with Ethan at the moment. Well, that’s a terrible way of putting it. We’ve not been having problems with Ethan. Ethan’s lovely, Ethan’s fabulous. Ethan is a kind and caring and empathetic and loyal and hilarious little boy who loves his friends and loves his family and feels things very deeply (and who is occasionally a 9-year-old with a teenager’s attitude). Right now we are trying to help him deal with his anxiety. We’re not entirely sure what jumped it up a notch, but for the last 6 weeks there’s been a lot of anxiety, worry, and sadness about going into school.
Now, his school is fabulous. I would give almost anything to go back in time and be able to go to his school, spend time doing the things that he does, and be in such a caring environment. My brother often gets quite jealous that he is 28 now and can’t go back to school (he’s quite tall, I thnk they might notice). We’re incredibly lucky to be able to send Ethan to a private school, and this is one of the reasons we made the decision. The staff have the time and energy to be able to support Ethan, to give him the space and encouragement he needs, and we haven’t had to wrangle with CAMHS waiting lists.
But Ethan is incredibly worried that he will have a bad day and that school will be terrible. The school counsellor has told us that he meets the clinical level for separation anxiety and is borderline for social phobia. It seems his main issue is that he’ll miss me and Erica and he’s worried about bad things happening when he’s at school. Nothing catastrophic, but things going wrong, or him getting into trouble, or falling out with friends and them not wanting to play with him. There is no logical reason for any of this because he never gets in trouble, people always want to play with him, and he always has fun, but he’s worked this all up in his head.
The separation anxiety doesn’t come as a huge shock to me. I’ve always known that the experience of losing a parent would come back and rear its head at various times in his life. I know that some people looking on might think that he’s always been clingy, but when you stop and look at it from his perspective, one of the most important people in his life completely disappeared without warning when he was 2. If you were him, wouldn’t you hold on tightly to the one that was left?
I did ask him about the whole missing me thing, and rather amusingly he said: “Well I don’t know why but I think liking you has just kicked in a little bit more”. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. Did he not like me before? Did he think I was terrible, and now he’s suddenly realised that I’m quite lovely and a pretty good mum?
Anyway, every morning I drive him to school. Sometimes in the car he’s very quiet, sometimes he’s listening to music, and sometimes he talks to me about how he’s worried. And we try and logically go through his worries, and we try and focus on the positives, and we do all the things that I know from my training and that his counsellor has suggested. And then we get to school and we sit in the car and he says: “I can’t do it, I cant’ get out”. And we talk about why it’s something we need to do (We don’t push the legal thing because then he got worried that Nick and I would be arrested). We talk about all the things that have been put in place by the school to make him feel safe and secure. And we try breaking it down. So the first step is we take our seatbelts off, and then step 2 is I open the door, then I walk round to his side of the car, I open his door, step 3 is swinging his legs over the side of the seat, step 4 is standing up, step 5 is picking up his bags, and step 6 is walking to the gate and saying “See you later” (we don’t do goodbye). Now, that took all of 15 seconds to tell you. Generally, it will take between half an hour and an hour for it to actually happen. Sometimes he does it just with me, sometimes we need a staff member to try and intervene.
Honestly, having to sit there every morning and pretend to be so calm and collected, and so matter of fact. Having to be that safe space. Watching him fall apart to the extent that on Monday he had a panic attack in the school corridor, and this morning he wouldn’t let go of my waist even though 2 teachers tried to reason with him. To have to watch him do that every single morning is slowly breaking me. Because I can’t make it go away.
It’s like that bee sting. I can’t stop the pain. I don’t have a quick fix. I can’t give him medicine, I can’t give him a solution. I can’t do anything other than sit there and be with him as he’s going through it. And as someone who likes to fix things, as you’ve probably realised by now, this is not my comfort zone, this is not my area of expertise.
Well, that’s a lie, it is my area of expertise, and that is probably the only reason that I am able to stay calm and collected and not completely burst into tears and fall apart every morning. I think that, probably, I am compartmentalising and putting my work head on. Just like I did when Mark was sick, just like I did when he died, just like I did when I had to answer those questions over and over again when Ethan was small, and help him, and explain, and be that safe space. The problem is that I don’t know whether that’s the best thing to do anymore, but it is the only thing I’ve got right now.
So I’m just going to have to continue to sit there and be with him while we all go through it together.