Today I was in a meeting when I got the text from David. Were not going jack is an ahole i don’t know what the hell is wrong with him.
My stomach clutched. Poor Jack.
Last night Jack had insisted on taking a shower, unheard of for my six-year-old boy. When he got out of the shower, he asked me to cut his hair so he could “look sharp.”
“Jack, I’m not going to cut your hair,” I said. “How about if I put some gel in it and comb it down?”
“Mom, can you trim my nails now?”
What the hell was going on with my child? Who was this boy and what had he done with the Jack who ran away from me when I tried to cut his nails that had gotten to the length of Howard Hugh’s?
“My fingernails AND toenails.”
When I came back into his bedroom after putting the nail clippers back in the bathroom, I found Jack cleaning in between his toes. “I have to get rid of the toe jam,” he said.
“Jack, what’s going on?” I finally asked when I saw him digging in his belly button with a baby wipe.
“I want to be ready for Jeremy’s party,” he said as he handed me the wipe so I could really, really get the dirt out of his belly button.
Jeremy’s birthday party was going to be at a Renaissance Fair, and Jack was beyond excited.
But then something happened. “He’s out of control,” David said when I called him. “He’s screaming about how he doesn’t want to go to Jeremy’s party. And now he’s in his room. What the…”
“Let me talk to him.”
I knew exactly what had happened to Jack. Somewhere between cleaning out his belly button and the morning, Jack’s mind had spun out of control. With an overactive imagination, Jack began imagining the worse. Where is this place? I’ve never been before and I can’t control a situation I don’t know anything about. At this point, Jack’s stomach started to twist and turn. His heart beat crazy at the thought of going to this party. What if… What if…
David said, “Go ahead and talk to him, but I’ve been asking him all morning what’s going on.” David grunted into the phone, frustrated. “Here he is.”
“Honey, what’s up with you?” I asked. “You were all excited last night and now you don’t want to go. Help me understand.”
“I don’t feel comfortable,” Jack said. “I started thinking about it and I just don’t feel comfortable going.”
“Hey, I get it,” I said. “You and I are a lot alike. Our brains and imaginations make situations worse than they are. We start to get uncomfortable about going somewhere and then we don’t.”
I took a deep breath. I’m thrown back fifteen years before to the fateful trip to New Orleans where I had a breakdown on the plane which forever changed my ability to get on a plane. I knew I’d die in a plane. That’s what my brain told me. I remember coming home from that trip and my world getting smaller and smaller. I drove to work because I had to. But getting to work was traumatic; every bridge I crossed I prayed an earthquake wouldn’t happen, convinced I was an earthquake away from my car tumbling into the San Diego River and dying. What stopped this insanity? Molly and Kelly. They deserved a mom who wasn’t consumed by fear and anxiety. They made me look in the mirror. That’s what kids do. Look, Mom, how can you live with yourself this way? How can you show us the way through the world when you’re scared shitless?
Now Jack was holding up the mirror again.
“Baby, I want you to do me a huge favor. I want you to trust mama and papa and know we wouldn’t take you anywhere where bad things happen. I want you to go to Jeremy’s party. I want you to check it out. Because if you don’t I think you’ll be really sad you didn’t go and have fun. Okay?”
Jack did go to the birthday party, and I couldn’t have been more proud if he had jumped out of an airplane without a parachute, because I knew that’s what it felt like.