So my four year old daughter has this irrational fear of being left behind. She’s had it for a while (years, in fact) and in an effort to assuage it, I have taken to full verbal and emotional preparation for any sudden shifts in room movement. Let’s take for example, getting dressed in the morning. It happens before eating breakfast (which is, in itself, a reason for meltdown) and Eliott must take off PJ’s, put on pants, a shirt, socks, and shoes in the same amount of time it takes me to do all of the same for her sister, and also change a diaper. It is probably unnecessary to add that Eliott is not a morning person. So as I’m getting Carter’s shoes on, noticing Eliott is only as far as getting her pajama bottoms off (she’s now on her back with her legs in the air, whining, “But Mommy, I just want to eat breakfast and then get dressed,”) I have to start calmly preparing her for the fact that I’ll be going downstairs to make breakfast and she can join us when her clothes and shoes are on. I warn her a few times, usually, before heading for the kitchen. Mind you, this has been our routine for almost 3 months. Nevertheless, before the water for oatmeal is even on the stove, Eliott is screaming/crying/snotting/blubbering from the top of the stairs, “Mommy! You can’t leave me!!”
The car in the garage is another point of this irrational fear. Whether getting in or out, if the entire family isn’t moving at Eliott’s pace, Eliott is having a meltdown. Many mornings, I grab Carter’s school bag on the way out and notice there’s no diaper in it. I always say, “Eliott, will you run upstairs and grab a diaper while I put Carter in the car?” This is immediately followed by, “I. Am. Not. Going to leave you. Look, I don’t even have my coffee yet. I’m just going to put Carter in the car and come back for my coffee and purse and then you’ll be ready to come with me.” Yet, the minute I’m clicking Carter into the carseat, with the garage door wide open, I can hear Eliott all the way upstairs, in the exact same panicked tone, “Mommy! Don’t leave me!!” Try to hear where she goes up at least a decibel and a full octave on “leave.” Repeat scenario if I have more than one bag of groceries to get out of the trunk and am moving quickly to unload the car in the same time it takes my 4 year old to get out.
I have been wracking my brain for several months now as to where this irrational fear comes from. Again, the girl has never been forgotten or even lost anywhere. I admit, there were a few times both last summer and the summer before that I started walking toward the door in order to get her to speed up the Velcro-ing of her shoes. In hindsight, if this is in fact the root cause, I’d go back and undo those moments. I even have her repeat back to me, every time this happens, “Mommy will never leave you. Ever. Anywhere. No matter what.” She often tacks on, “Even if I’m too slow,” and I say, “Even if you’re too slow.”
As I pondered the irrational fear in my daughter this morning in the car, it dawned on me that it is likely either a genetic or hormonal problem. Because I too, suffer from irrational fear. Most of the time it isn’t even as definable as Eliott’s fear of being left behind. I usually don’t even realize its presence until I have a morning like this morning. Here’s an embarrassing glimpse into my 8:22am phone call to John:
“Are you the one who’s been untying the chord on Eliott’s curtains every night?
“Why do you do that?! Haven’t you noticed that it is tied in a decorative knot? As in, it is supposed to stay that way? What is the matter with you? I’ve been yelling at Eliott every morning about not touching her curtains. And every morning she just says, “Yes Mommy,” even though, clearly, she can’t even reach the knot! Because it has been you! All ALONG! And — will you also stop closing all the curtains downstairs every night?!”
“Uh…I just like closing the curtains at night so no one can see in…sorry honey I didn’t know you didn’t…uh–”
“John! We have blinds. When you close the blinds no one can see in. What is the matter with you? (I think I asked this question a few more times.) Where are you from? Who goes around undoing curtains every single night? These are window treatments, not privacy tools! Leave them ALONE. Just do the damn blinds!”
“Okay honey. I won’t do it again. What else do you want me to say?”
(At this point, my voice sounds almost identical to Eliott’s from the top of the stairs) “SAY YOU’RE SORRY! AND NEVER DO IT AGAIN!“
What you are not hearing is the earnest truth in my voice throughout this phone call, of genuine pissed-off-hatred oozing through my veins. I have no idea where it comes from. And the sad part of this story is this phone call has happened in our marriage with even more shameful regularity than I’d like to admit. Granted, blinds/curtains, dishwasher/sink, something in the bathroom. It doesn’t matter. The subject is always the same. Irrational anger about something small, stemming from an irrational fear of something I cannot name. When John was carpooling to work in Raleigh every morning I can only imagine his face as he responded (in between my gasping breaths) in a chipper, “Sure thing honey! Okay!” There was one point where we made a deal that I’d stop calling and leave him my verbal rant on his g-chat, to be read as soon as he sat down at his desk. Somehow, this morning I knew that even caps lock just wasn’t going to be as satisfying.
Apparently, I’m currently suffering from a yet undefined irrational fear. The Under Toad, if you will. If I could define it, perhaps the curtains wouldn’t have set me off this morning. I know I owe John an apology. He’s very good at separating his work-self from his family-self, so though I’m quite sure he arrived to the office angry at me (and thinking, “The entire kitchen was clean this morning and she’s mad that I closed the curtains?!”) he likely is pushing it aside to get work done today. He’ll remember before he walks in the door at 5:35 however. And the fact of the matter is, before we even have a chance to debrief this little episode there will be a moment where I’m standing in the middle of my kitchen, holding a spatula, crying. And at that moment, something will go off in his head (like Pavlov’s bell) and he’ll realize that this isn’t actually about him. Again. Because it never is. And then we’ll hug and I’ll apologize and maybe The Under Toad will be kept at bay for a little while. Or maybe not, which means look forward to Part 2 tomorrow.