Anxiety Mom and the Case of the Missing Shoes
"You have got to be kidding me."
There should be an exclamation point at the end of that statement, because I'm pretty sure it came out of my mouth as a snarling roar.
My son flinched as if my raised voice had struck him. I remember wiping my hands over my face and attempting to control a rage that was quickly creeping up, hanging off every word I was uttering. He was avoiding my furious gaze, staring intently at the floor, shuffling his feet sheepishly.
He'd lost his shoes. The pair of blue Converse canvas sneakers we'd just bought him two weeks ago. And I'm not sure why, but this was really the last straw for me. My ten year old son is a bit absent minded. He tends to leave his clothes all over the floor no matter how many times I nag him about taking the two extra steps to put them in the basket.My son is the kind of kid you send to the kitchen to grab a snack and he comes back with a random toy he found on the floor, a comment about a permission slip he forgot at school and a complaint about banging his shin on the edge of the wall. But no snack. He'll have completely forgotten about the snack in the two minutes it took him to reach the pantry door. And to be fair, this most recent footwear disappearing act was the last in a long line of things that had been misplaced. Two hoodies, a striped mitten, a slew of overdue homework and notices, the spoon from his lunch, and a twenty dollar stainless steel water bottle.
He lost that water bottle the very first day he brought it to school, brand new and shiny with his name stamped on it in at least two places.
I laid into my son with an epic tirade about carelessness and responsibility and his general lack of respect for things that were hard earned. I saw in him a slovenly disregard for my tireless organization, an infuriating apathy for my efforts to parent and care for him. But even in the moment, lost in the relentless pitch of the frustration that was driving me, I knew it was about something more. As it often is.
This bubbling, seething indignation was about me. About the thousand things that I was incessantly worrying about, a mountain of adult responsibility that I felt smothered by.
Finances stretched too thin, relationships suffering from disconnection, the constant stream of worries that raising little beings brings. Am I poisoning my children with sugar? Does drinking from all that plastic eventually cause cancer? Will they come home from school sniffling and ill, ravaged by germs I can't protect them from? Is my daughter's aversion to reading my fault? They watch too much TV. Of course they do. Is it making them near sighted or would they have been myopic anyway?
I am an anxious Mom. I try my best not to let my anxiety take the wheel, but too often it does. I spend my days tiptoeing around the landmines of my fears, certain that one misstep is going to blow my safe world sky high. Lost shoes are not just lost shoes. They are objects we'll need to replace with money we don't really have to spare. They are evidence that I have failed to raise my son to be a thoughtful, respectful person. Lost shoes are symbols of my distraction. If I had paid more attention, if I'd been listening to my kids instead of my worry, maybe I'd have seen the missing shoes before they were misplaced.
For me, being an anxious parent means struggling with the conviction that if I'd only been more observant, more informed, more cautious, that I could have avoided the pitfalls. Anxiety fills me with dread but even more than that, with a relentless, bottomless guilt.
And I know, even when I'm raising my voice and venting my misplaced anxiety rage, that it's worse than useless. That it's actually damaging. My son doesn't learn to be a more careful, thoughtful kid by watching me blow up in his face about a pair of shoes. Instead, he learns to hide his mistakes from the threat of my wrath. My son hears in my admonishments the clear message that he is not measuring up. And that my approval is attached to his ability to not disrupt the careful balance of my tentative calm. It's not the lesson I intend to teach, but it's the one he's learning.
Several days after the incident of the missing shoes, as I was teetering on the edge of sleep, I suddenly sat up in bed. I tiptoed into my daughter's room to her closet and quietly edged the door open. Blinded by the dark, I felt inside the hanging organizer with my hands, searching for the shapes of things. It was only a minute or two before I found them. I drug out my son's blue canvas shoes from my daughter's shoe organizer. Where I had put them. In my frantic haste to clear the entryway of clutter, I'd come upstairs with an armful of shoes. I'd put his enormous shoes in her closet, oblivious of my mistake until that moment when my memory had suddenly dredged it up.
The next morning I approached him, shoes in hand. I sat on the edge of his bed in the morning sunlight and did the only thing I could. I asked him to forgive me.
For being the imperfect, anxious Mom that I am. And I recognized that the person who needed to learn a lesson about being careful and thoughtful was me. I'd been careless with something much more precious than a pair of shoes and all I could do was hope I hadn't lost my son's respect.
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