Ithilien is a worrier.
Oh, this child of mine, how he worries! He always has. I remember holding him at the counter of a fast food restaurant when he was a little baby of perhaps 5 months, and when the soda fountain made that grr-I’m-grinding-ice noise, he went rigid, hyperventilated, and burst into tears.
In those early days, it was easy to brush off that he was scared. Babies are always scared when they’re alone, or when unexpected things happen, because it’s how they stay alive. It wasn’t remarkable that he was afraid of loud noises or panicked and couldn’t catch his breath when the wind blew on his face or was so terrified of being separated from me that he reacted to strangers the way most movie characters react to their first zombie.
As he got older, the worries didn’t fade. He’s still scared of thunder and cars back-firing. He can’t stand the way deep pipe organ notes resonate in the floor. He doesn’t like to meet new people, and he doesn’t like loud parties. He’s afraid of big dogs, and nervous about going over bridges, and says he hates his brain for making up monsters in the dark. He worries about Robert and whether he is safe during the workday and whether he will ever come home. He worries that the baby will die. He still ends up in my bed every night, terrified and shaking, begging for protection from things unnamed and imaginary.
Normal childhood stuff, right? Lots of five-year-olds are afraid of the dark or a bit shy, and nighttime magnifies everyone‘s anxieties.
But this week was a departure from that.
This week, he has whined, cried, and begged for protection for hours of the day, every day. He says he’s scared. That he doesn’t want to die. That he hates that germs exist. That he doesn’t want germs to destroy his body.
Let me be clear: the kid isn’t even sick. I have told him, countless times, that he will probably live another 70 or 80 years. That his body is strong and his immune system works hard all the time to protect him– that’s one of the Big Lessons. That if germs were destroying his body, we would get him help, because he is our baby and we love him.
No dice. Still scared.
Today, when he had literally been whining and crying pathetically in my lap for four whole hours and I was just trying to get something done, I lost my temper and yelled.
“Please, just STOP WHINING!”
And he wept. He hugged himself in his blanket and trembled, crying softly, while I rushed to apologize and reassure him that he was acceptable, and his feelings were acceptable, and I was wrong to yell at him, and he was safe with me.
He forgave me and let me pick him up, and we rocked and talked about his feelings, and then he fell asleep, worn out from a long day of emotional turmoil.
I kept rocking him, and I took up the mantle of worry for myself.
Is he okay? Should we take him to a therapist? What if he’s really sick? What if he has a crippling anxiety disorder that can only be managed with medication? Did I do this to him by yelling? Is this what happens when children grow up with depressed and anxious parents? Am I breaking him? Am I bad?
Then I looked down into his face, all long lashes and beautiful pink mouth and enviably perfect skin, and saw total peace and trust.
I thought about a conversation Robert and I had about Ithilien a few weeks ago. We had talked about how he was like one of the fairies from Peter Pan– so small that he can only feel one thing at a time, but whatever he feels, he feels it completely.
I remembered that this was the kid who was always afraid of ice makers and unable to cope with wind, but that he was also the baby who smiled so big and wide that it seemed the top of his head would fall right off.
He’s the one who needs light and company to feel safe enough to sleep, but also the one who totally loses himself in giggling.
He’s the one who can’t go upstairs alone without turning on every light, but also the one who seems completely fulfilled by art-as-process, who never worries about the product.
He’s the one who goes from apoplectic anger to complete delight in three syllables.
He’s the one who worries about things that may not happen for a century to come, but he’s also the one who has been making new Christmas decorations since March.
He’s the one who trembles with fear when I lose myself and yell, but he’s also the one who tells me “I just can not stop loving dyu because dyu is my mommy and dyu take care of me.”
He’s the one who has spent the past three days in the depths of a depression about the inevitability of his own death and the specter of disease, but he’s also the one who wants to build a workshop for teaching his unborn baby sibling to be an expert holiday decorator and trick-or-treater.
Maybe he’s not broken. Maybe his feelings are just so big, so perfect, so beautifully whole that they overwhelm him. Maybe he feels more, and deeper, than I could ever imagine. Maybe it’s a kind of blessing, and not just a curse, to be wired the way he is.
Maybe he is just furiously happy, too.