I’m embarrassed to admit that I have found myself hiding in a bathroom stall on more than one occasion. For instance, one summer I joined our local YMCA, eager to get fit and to try out the yoga classes. I showed up the first day armed with my mat and headed to the room I expected the yoga class to be in, but instead it was completely empty.
A reasonable person would have walked over to the front desk and asked one of the perfectly safe people working there (you know, the people being paid to help) and asked where the yoga class was. They’d have helped me find the room, and I’d have had an inspiring yoga class, leading eventually to me becoming a yogi, resuming my pre-baby weight size four status and achieving life-long inner peace.
I did not do the reasonable thing. No, instead, I proceeded directly to the restrooms where I hid in a stall panicking.
There I sat, thinking all the irrational anxiety-thoughts: They’ll figure out that you don’t belong here! You’re just a faker. You’re not good enough. (Anxiety inspires some pretty cruel and nutty self-talk.) Through the crack in the stall, I saw an adorable yoga-mom in chic Lululemon head to toe. You know her: She’s delightful. She’s smart. She eats only organic, locally harvested everything. She can execute a graceful crow pose without breaking her nose. She belongs here. Yoga-mom would help me. I’d just come on out of hiding as if I had actually been peeing the whole time and ask her where the yoga class was.
I got up, pretend-flushed and exited, as was the plan, and . . . I said nothing. I washed my hands, avoided eye contact, and left the restroom in silence. Of course, I couldn’t just leave. No, yoga-mom would think I was nuts for coming to the gym, mat in hand, using the facilities, and walking straight back out. That would be crazy. Instead, I did a loop. I walked out the restroom to the right, followed the wall along the entire perimeter of the building until I worked my way around a full circle and back out the front door. Because that looked far less crazy.
I know this wasn’t exactly my very best moment, but I don’t honestly think these feelings are all that unusual. (Okay, perhaps my reaction was somewhat extreme.) But, my anxieties are not typically this debilitating. I think many, many people feel this way at least occasionally. And, even if you haven’t had the glory of hiding in a bathroom stall, you’ve probably had a moment of insecurity when you just didn’t know how to approach a situation. If not. You’re amazing, and I’ve never met you.
Sometimes I recognize these feelings in my son.
He is definitely more easy-going than I am. He’s far more gregarious and at ease with his friends. But, he is also very sensitive and has moments when that same fear sneaks up on him. And you know what? It happens to a lot of kids. I see it every single day in my classroom.
I don’t know that I have the answer, but I believe my reaction to his fears will shape his self-image. I want him to remember that fear is normal. I never, ever make him feel embarrassed about his feelings because I know that shame will only turn his feelings inward into self-doubt and self-hate. That’s not what I want for my son. My hope is that with some intentional dialogue, I can teach him a few strategies that are at least somewhat more effective than locking himself in a bathroom stall.
So, what do I say?
Mommy feels afraid sometimes, too. Daddy feels afraid. Your teacher feels afraid. Police officers and firefighters feel afraid. Fear is normal. Fear is good. Sometimes fear is our body telling us that we need to protect ourselves from danger. But, sometimes, it is important to be brave. And, when you are six years old, it is very hard to know the difference because it all feels the same. Until you are older, Mommy and Daddy will help you to decide when it is okay to choose not to do what is making you feel afraid and when it is important to try and be brave.
You do not have to jump off the diving board into the deep end of the pool until YOU feel ready. Nobody has the right to tell you when you are ready. You can choose when you want to take that leap, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with waiting. Anybody who tells you that you should take that risk before you are ready is wrong. And, I know that when you are ready, you are going to love it! I’ll be here to celebrate with you.
But, you’ve been working very hard in taekwondo. I know that standing up and showing your skills at your belt test will be scary, but it is important for you to take this risk. It is important for you to stand up there on your own and do your very best, but you will not have to be brave alone. We will be there cheering you on, sharing our courage with you.
I’m no expert. I’m just following my gut on this one. (Regrettably, it’s the same gut that chased me into the bathroom stall at the YMCA.) But, I think if we could just talk about it, just be upfront and honest about our own feelings with our children and with each other, we could encourage one another. We could create a gentler world where we realized that our anxieties are pretty relatable.
And, we might just get a little closer to inner peace, if not a size four.