The other day, I had to drag my son kicking and screaming into kindergarten.
His anxiety had taken over, his mind spinning in perseveration.
Kindergarten was too fast. Recess was too short. The cafeteria was too loud.
And my heart broke.
What nobody told me, but what surely every parent knows, is that aiding one’s children through childhood brings us back to our own childhood years.
Seeing my son struggle, painful as it was, was made even more so because it brought to mind my own struggles with anxiety, depression and panic.
Trying to soothe my boy, I was transported decades back in time.
I Saw My Own Pain in My Son’s Struggle
There I was, a terrified boy, probably 10 or so, hiding in bathrooms, trying to breathe, convinced of my own eventual insanity.
There I was, a quiet boy trying to avoid the notice of the older kids. Refusing to get out of the car to go into day camp. Paralyzed with fear at being called upon to present in front of the class.
The fear, anguish and despair of those early years, for indeed those were the emotions I felt, were as visceral as they had been all those years ago. All that I had hoped to have left behind came rushing back, cascading down the trauma-lined synapses of my brain.
So it was with extreme pain that I saw my oldest son struggle, saw his eyes water and his lower lip quiver. I saw my pain in him. My fear, hopelessness and, above all, the desire to simply be safe at home, knowing full well that that was the one place I wouldn’t be allowed to go.
But, as ever, there is sunlight after darkness.
So when I stood there to pick him up after school, and I saw his smiling face come around the bend, I was reminded of the staggering strength of our young people, these little humans in their little bodies navigating a world so large and loud.
I was reminded, yet again, that life is struggle, and woe would it be for me to envision my role of father as he who spares my son the experiential power of struggle.
I knelt down to hug him. I squeezed him and looked in his eye.
“You did it!” I said.
“Yup!” he replied, with the infuriating and inspiring matter-of-factness of a 5-year-old.
We held hands as we walked home. I mined for the details of his day.
And I envisioned that future day when my son held hands with a young child of his own, feeling the irrepressible heartache that is a parent’s love for their child.