My daughter has a phobia of a particular toy…a run-directly-out-of-the-store-not-straight-for-mom phobia. Those tactile balls with fringey hair dangling off of them…the ones that squeeze and the hair dances…here’s a picture:
Yeah, those. She despises them. Always has. I’ve warned her preschool teachers and play date hosts that the sight of this particular type of toy will send her screaming in the opposite direction. We couldn’t even get in the pool one day this past summer because she saw a child with one of those in the water. She clung on to me, left scratch marks on my arms, and refused to get in until that family had departed the premises. Get the picture? She dislikes them.
When I took her to preschool one morning recently, I noticed one of her playmates had brought one of those despised fringey caterpillars with her that day. It was sitting on the table while the little girl played. As home toys are not allowed at preschool, I knew the teacher would put it in the child’s cubby, but I was intrigued about how D would handle its presence. So the teacher and I stood in the doorway and observed.
She noticed it on the table and took a stutter step backwards but didn’t head for the hills. “Is that yours?” she asked her friend. “Yes, you can play with it if you want,” was the reply back. D looked at me in the doorway, and then carefully reached over with one finger and touched it. I was so proud of her that I almost cheered, but I kept quiet and watched further. She tapped it a couple of times, and she and her friend giggled at its wiggly hair. Her friend picked it up and held it out to her. D stepped back and said, “I don’t want it,” but again, didn’t flee. She looked at the over-sized buttons she was playing with and offered one for the caterpillar to eat. Then she got her brilliant idea. The cardboard box in which the buttons were housed was just slightly bigger than the caterpillar. “I know! Let’s make this box his house.” She tipped the box over the creepy little toy so that it was hidden from sight. “If he’s in his house, he won’t scare anyone if they’re scared of him.” Her friend liked the idea. She peeked under the box and talked to her wiggly friend and then covered him back up again. The two girls giggled and continued to play with the over-sized buttons, ignorant of the milestone that had just been achieved. I stood in the doorway, near tears, and beamed at my little angel.
As I drove to work, I considered what D had done. She had approached the thing in her little life that scared her the most. She had addressed it. She had interacted with it. And she had taken control of it. Wow…The thing that previously frightened the liver out of her was now safely inside a box…a house for it, that she had built. She had seen it coming, acknowledged its presence, touched it, and put herself in a position of power over it. Without falling apart. No tears, no departure, no phobic response. Just baby steps of control.
Oh, my precious, darling D…I want to bottle up that moment of power in your life and replay it for you over and over and over again in your future. When the fringey things turn into human things or inhumane things… May you keep that mature courage to identify the fear and take control of it. Build a house for your fears, little one, and put them in it so they don’t interfere with your other activities. My brave, brave dear…may that courageous moment in your short history represent the beginning of a life of confidence and competence. And may I be around to see you grow and grow with you.
Today I will put my own fear of my children growing up in its own little box, and I will go back to playing with them and enjoy every minute of it.