Thankful Mom Moment:: Watching Your Kiddo Overcome

I don’t recall a day in the last 18 years that I haven’t prayed {and let’s just be honest, worried about more than prayed} for my kids to succeed. When they were first born, success was a night of sleep. At 2, success included more challenges, as I began to see that I was incapable of controlling each outcome. I vividly remember the day that I realized I could not calm my daughter’s fears. I could say all the things. I could follow the guidelines in the books for parenting anxious kiddos, but even as a little-bitty, there were some things that not even Momma’s arms could comfort. 

As a kid, I was personally never a fan of full-face covering animal suits or mascot costumes. As a native Houstonian, I can remember going to Pipe Organ Pizza at Memorial City Mall in the early 80’s. My siblings loved everything about that place. I liked the pizza. The games were ok. The music was creepy, but when the characters made their appearance, I hid under the table. In the early years, I assumed that my daughter shared my preference for avoiding furry fake animals. We kept trying and she never found a love for Chuck E. Cheese. The moment that mouse appeared, she would scale the closest adult like a spider monkey. I wrongly assumed that she would outgrow this dislike with time.

Growing Fears

I knew we had a more serious situation looming when at 9 and 10, the dislike turned to terror. One afternoon, I received a call from our wonderful elementary  school vice-principal. Woefully apologetic, she needed me to come to the school. In an attempt to have a pep rally for testing day, they brought in Toro the Texans’ Bull to energize the students. My precious little was happily seated in the gym when in walked a terror inducing dancing bovine. I did not know it then, but I believe that this was her first true panic attack. We talked about the pretend nature of the suit. We began exposure therapy with a great professional. She KNEW it was a person in a costume, but when that head went on, everything changed. 

We reached a new level of concern in middle school. Now there was a mascot on CAMPUS. If you have ever loved a person with a phobia, you know that the world often sees it as something to “get over.” Let me testify, just as you do with other illnesses, you don’t just get over anxiety disorders. The worry about an accidental encounter with the roaming bobcat only escalated the horror of being different as a junior high girl. When most kids were thrilled with a shortened schedule for pep rally days, we lived on heighten panic for weeks in preparation. Not one time in 3 years of middle school did my daughter attend an entire pep rally. With the help of loving teachers and supportive friends, they blocked hallways, distracted onlookers from seeing tears and stood outside gym doors talking her through what the other kids were seeing without forcing her to come face to face with the human sized cat. 

Dangerous Territory 

Think for a moment of all the possible land mines for someone with this phobia. Every carnival, circus, rodeo and sporting event was anxiety producing. Even her dad’s company picnic included the possibility of a freak encounter. The worst was the poor cow at Chick-fil-A! Most kids run towards the hugs, stickers, coupons and fun. We, however, could have a meal or drive-though experience go horribly wrong with one simple wave. 

While we all choose to parent differently, please let me speak for a second to the suck-it-up-buttercup mommas. I am one of you at heart. I cannot tell you the number of times that I wanted to look at my sweet girl and tell her to grow some thicker skin. I did this wrong. I messed up Mom-ing for far too long. Even when I wanted to believe I was doing it right, I wasn’t. It was not helpful for me to say, “you will be fine” because she was clearly not. I should not have compared my normal childhood preference to her traumatic experience. She has very real trauma scars from my inability to learn how to think and empathize differently. I don’t say these things to celebrate my shame game. I tell you this in the hope that you can learn from my mistakes. I was gifted with a tender daughter. One that experiences things on emotional levels that I do not possess. This is not something that she needs to change or get over. It makes her the amazing, sensitive, gifted, feeler that she is today. She needed skills that I didn’t know how to give her to cope with things that I did not understand. She has done all of the hard work and then some.

A Time to Be Thankful

Case-in-point:: She is about to turn 18. Last summer, she was an intern for the Child Advocacy Center of Galveston County. She had the privilege to learn alongside some of the greatest protectors of children. That is her heart. She loves kids {especially kids that are hurting} with a fierce and wise passion that is well beyond her years. During her internship, she saw the many ways that kids are educated and encouraged. And guess what? One of those ways was a big fur ball of love named Happy Bear. Happy Bear works with kids ages 3-1st grade on body safety and welcome touch. Going into area schools, Happy Bear is showing kids how even things like hugs and tickles can be unwelcome and it is healthy to have good personal boundaries. Now, for the full circle part of our story. This is my girl as HAPPY BEAR::

Thankful Mom Moment:: Watching Your Kiddo Overcome

With some incredible work, the love of people and kids as her focus and the encouragement of a team of cheerleaders, she has taken one of the hardest things in her childhood and transformed it into a way to channel her worst fear for positive change. Continuing her work this fall with the CAC, she travels to schools and WEARS the very instrument of panic that derailed many a day. The nights of tears were so hard. This journey was not easy {nor is it completely over}, but when she comes home from Happy Bear days, she has the knowledge that she has overcome and in the process is caring for her very favorite beings in all of creation, the terrified eyes of a kid that feels helpless. Now that is a redemption story to be thankful for!

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