Thursday, November 08, 2007

Not That Comfortable

When I was young, I had a very small comfort zone and I was deathly afraid to step outside of it. Chip did not have this affliction. As I aged, I grew out of it, which I'm grateful for. I know it's not that easy for everyone. I had hoped that when Chip and I reproduced, we would create children who were easy-going like their father always has been and like their mother has worked to sometimes be. However, it has become clear that things won't be this easy.

Lately Connor's developing sense of self has led him to be so self-conscious that he FREAKS OUT when asked to move even an inch outside of his comfort zone. It is an immediate and all-encompassing freak out, too. It's not like he calmly says no, then gets upset if the issue persists. For example, just the suggestion that he dress up like his favorite "royal" (this week's theme at school) was enough to push the boy immediately over the edge into complete panic this morning. He didn't want to dress up, and furthermore he did not want to go to school, because if other people were going to be dressed up and he wasn't, he didn't want any part of that either. It's like that was just sitting right below the surface, waiting on me to callously glance at his classroom calendar and off-handedly mutter "Dress like your favorite royal. . ." Tears were literally streaming off his face and hitting the floor. He was shrieking that I needed to stay home with him, and please don't leave him there alone, and he wasn't going to school. It took ten minutes to get him into the car, and most of the morning drive to calm him down. I could feel his tension until we finally made it into his classroom and saw that, as I had predicted, there were a few princesses and no male royalty at all.

The main problem for us as parents is that Chip doesn't understand feeling so frantic about something so simple and therefore doesn't know how to react. I understand this feeling completely and yet I don't know how to react either. When Connor loses his shit and can't even have a conversation about, say, riding a bike with no training wheels, let alone actually do it, Chip's first reaction is to push the issue and my first reaction is to drop the subject. I remember as a kid feeling overwhelmed by any pressure to do something I didn't want to do (ride a roller coaster, jump off the diving board, etc). I would reject something completely if I heard about it too much rather than allowing myself to explore any interest on my own. Consequently, I worry about turning Connor off to things by pushing them on him when he's not of a mind to accept them. On the other hand, Chip worries that if no one pushes him to step outside his comfort zone and experience new things, that he never will. I think we're both right, but having parents who react so differently is not going to help him any. We've got to find a middle ground that we can both be comfortable with and stick with it.

Ultimately, I believe Connor's comfort zone will grow slowly and gradually like mine did, rather than by leaps and bounds. He'll ride that bike someday. He'll enjoy trick-or-treating someday. He'll eat something besides PB&J someday. I see no need to make his life more stressful by insisting he do those things right NOW. Hopefully, as he sees that no one is forcing him to do anything, he'll feel comfortable exploring them at his own pace. We just have to put those things in front of him and occasionally remind him that they are there. So hopefully if Chip won't push, and I won't drop things completely, we'll be able to ride a middle ground until we find a place with fewer tears and less stress for all of us.


Cathy said...

It’s like food. I read somewhere that often times a particular food needs to be introduced to a baby something like 5-15,000 times before the baby will come around to liking it (or something like that). You two are great parents.

Memphisotan said...

I definitely leaned toward the Connor side of the spectrum as a child (and, um, now). One of my parents' favorite quotes from me as a 6-year-old was, "I don't think I care for bicycle-riding." And when they backed off and stopped talking about it, I got the bike out on my own and took off.

Stacey Greenberg said...

just remember the day he walked over to the big slide and went down like it was no big deal at all!