“I am feeling a little nervous.”
A few minutes earlier, I saw all of the signs when I told my oldest daughter we had to complete her soon-to-be 2nd grade teacher’s “Back To School” questionnaire.
She got quiet. She swallowed frequently as she tried to compensate for the dry throat. She started breathing heavier. Her tongue kept going into her cheek the way it does when she’s trying not to cry.
It was the night before the first day of school, and I, too, was feeling those nerves of change hanging in the air. I knew it was what was going on with her, too, because of our conversations in the weeks prior about her feeling a little nervous about going back to school. She was specifically anxious about how hard the work would be and if she would like her new teacher after having such a strong connection with the one the previous year.
As she got up on the stool next to our kitchen island, I didn’t tell her right away that I noticed how she was feeling, but and simply sat down next to her and put my hand gently on her back as she got her pencil ready to complete her first assignment of the year.
She let the teacher know that math and art are her favorite subjects, that she thinks she’s really good at “being kind” and that she often likes to work on her own. Then she got to the last question that read, “What else do you want me to know?”
There was a long pause before she glanced up at me with a tear hanging on for dear life in her right eye.
“Do you want her to know you’re a little nervous?” I asked handcuffing the emotions in my own eyes, already knowing the answer.
She nodded immediately and said, “Maybe if she knows she’ll be able to help me, Mom.”
As a mom who lives with anxiety, I’ve been incredibly open with my kids about what it is, what it feels like, and how I cope with it. Specifically with my daughter—whose anxious tendencies I can already recognize—I’ve told her stories about when I feel nervous and how I used my tools to make it better. I’ve explained what it felt like and watched her nod because she knew the feeling, too. It’s my way of saying to her, “Hey, you’re not alone in feeling this way,” and, “I understand you and am here for you,” and, “There are tools you can use to make it all feel less heavy.”
One of those tools I’ve shared with her? Letting people around me know how I’m feeling so they can help me through it.
So as I watched her sweet little hand draw out the words that would tell her teacher how she was feeling, I had a sense of deep sadness and immense pride crash together in my soul.
Because even though my heart ached for her that she was struggling . . . EVEN THOUGH all I wanted to do was put a bubble around her that would shield her from anxiety’s evil talons . . . I was so dang proud of her for knowing it was OK to speak up.
And it washed away all of my self-doubt about whether or not I share too much with her. If it’s a mistake to tell her that I talk to my doctor about my anxiety. If my stories of feeling anxious are too heavy for her to hear.
Because in that moment I saw a little girl who knows she doesn’t have to struggle alone.
A little girl who knows it’s OK to not be OK.
A little girl who knows she has tools to use when she needs them.
A little girl who knows she doesn’t have to give in to anxiety.
A little girl who just wants to enjoy things and not let anxiety take that away.
And a little girl who knows anxiety doesn’t have to win . . . because her mom taught her how to fight it.