Day two of camp began, as all days do, backwards. Out the driveway in reverse, the low sun throwing daggers across refractive dew rising slowly into summer humidity, blinding me each time on that exact angle of the curve where I should be negotiating the gear into Drive and as such inaugurating the day. It’s summer, so the neighborhood air smelled of honeysuckle. And it was Tuesday, so it also smelled of sun-baking garbage cans, tidy sentries standing in ones and twos at the ends of our driveways, noting the passage for each family across the threshold from private to public living. Anything that happens now, the garbage cans know, will be on display for all the world to watch. We put our garbage cans out front and don’t bring them back until they’re empty.
It’s hard to be an anxious kid and it’s harder to be an anxious kid outside of the house where you’re misinterpreted and misunderstood and where your anxiety compounds itself and hammers at you, makes you shy. Camper-to-camp is another new relationship, and everyone needs to learn each other’s ways. It’s been a long few days but there is promise, a lot of it.
It’s hard to be an anxious kid’s mama, because it’s so easy to hear the description of a problem and ask a variation of “well, why didn’t you just say something?” But you know that this kid of yours can’t say something. She just can’t speak up. Her anxiety locks her mute and she will keep her problems to herself, problems you or I or most other kids solve with a verbal flick of the wrist but that she will endure rather than speak unbidden to near-strangers. She will come home hungry because she won’t eat the camp-provided snack, which we anticipated would happen and for which we sent her with her very own snack food. Nobody said “would you like something else to eat? do you have something else?” and so she won’t pull it out of her bag. She just won’t.
So to be an anxious kid’s mama, you instead have to say something like “I love you, girl” and hope that it conveys enough, and then unbeknownst to her so she’s not embarrassed, you send emails that say things like “please explicitly notice my not-eating daughter and please explicitly invite her to partake of her own food at snack time and please remember all the anxiety we discussed prior to camp and thank you so much for all that you do to support her and I’m so glad we can work together in not letting my child silently wither from starvation under your watch.” And you bolster her self-confidence as best you can, you listen with an open heart and a lap ready for quiet talking, and you pray for the day when she’ll be able to self-advocate, which you know is not soon coming. And then you move on to the bathing suit issue, and the schedule discrepancy issue, and the other small-but-huge things that an unanxious kid wouldn’t notice but an anxious kid can’t travel past.
And this is just summer camp, but this is what we do for birthday parties and medical visits and escalators and you wouldn’t believe the number of hours and people who have poured an ongoing effort into prepping a successful sleepover experience (or maybe you would) or for the enormity of second grade still two months away. The anxious kid desperately craves the easygoing experience she sees her peers enjoying around her. So the anxious kid’s parents do what they can, and do and do and do again.
There are fine moments and there are unfine moments and the anxious kid’s problems are probably invisible to you so you might never know about them. I want you to know about them, though, so I sometimes expose the tip of our iceberg here. Just the tip, mind you, but this particular struggle doesn't come with a physical deformity or a visible behavior, so you might not know that just behind that honeysuckle-sweet face, my girl climbs through the most putrid mountains of negative thoughts and worrying emotions just to try for the façade of nothing to see here.
Last night, at the end of day three, I took my biggest girl out to dinner so we could have a mama-daughter check-in. A stormcloudy girl turbulent with the highs and lows of the day and the exquisite ache that comes from buffering against those currents climbed into my car underneath a mirror of a stormcloudy sky. The rain broke furiously upon us, the kind where the wipers won't go enough so all the cars just stop.
But it ended as quickly as it had begun, and this full arc of a rainbow, that eternal sign of hope, shimmered against the glisten. It stayed for several minutes and broke our gloomy spell.
I have to tell you that I'm not sure I believe in signs. But I do believe in this girl.
Today -- day four -- she climbed in the car for the first time with a true smile, not the one of relief from day one, but of happiness. Camp is getting really fun, she said. We all have our own adjustment periods.