Separation anxiety

Long before I became a mother, I thought children were molded, not unfolded.  I thought you held them in your hands and shaped them with warm nimble fingers.  I thought you offered a logical explanation (“Rinse your milk glass and then the milk won’t get dry and sticky and hard to clean”) and they would assimilate this information and incorporate it into their daily routines.  I thought you whittled them into miniature replicas of you.

I might not have such fixed ideas about the nature of children if I weren’t the mother of adopted children as well as biological children.  The traits of the biological children are so vividly recognizable as the traits of my husband and me that I must conclude that the traits of my adopted children must be duplicates of their birth parents’ traits.  So behavior that seems inexplicable to me (the aforementioned dried milk in glasses, for instance) likely has a reasonable, organic basis.  (Perhaps their loathing of math can also be explained.)

My daughter inherited my curly hair.  She’s articulate and stubborn and slow to warm up to new situations.  As a baby, this reticence to embrace new situations revealed itself at three months of age when someone other than me held her.  She screamed her head off and refused to be comforted until I took her home into her own room.  After that day, no one could hold her but me and on some occasions, her dad.  No one else.  Ever.  She would shriek and freak out.

She clung to me like a barnacle.  For months I did everything with one hand, including peeling potatoes.  I took her everywhere.  She had no babysitters.  I thought I’d have to homeschool her since I couldn’t imagine her letting me out of her sight.

But when she was about four, she began to venture away sometimes.  She’d talk to other adults.  She became friendly to people at the pool.  By the time she turned six, she was able to go to kindergarten.  Her public school teacher would sometimes let her call me when she missed me a lot, but by halfway through the year, even the phone calls tapered off.

My baby girl grew brave and independent.  Usually.

But sometimes, like today, she reverts.  Today, when I dropped her off at VBS (Vacation Bible School), I was stunned when she left her group and ran to me.  She burst into tears, rubbed her eyes and begged me to stay with her.  I have no idea–I guess her tank of braveness and independence ran dry–so I told her she could come home with me but she’d miss all the fun–or that she could stay and have fun.  I refused to stay with her.  “Moms aren’t allowed,” I explained.  I gave her the choice:  Come home with me or stay and have fun.

She cried and cried.  Finally, her group headed to the activity and I said, “You need to decide” and she wanted to stay and have fun but she wanted me to stay, too, which I refused to do . . . so I gave my phone number to the 17-year old in charge of her group and told her that if she needed to come home, Shelby could call me and I’d come get her.

And what do you know?  She never called.  She had fun.

I understand her.  I feel introverted and scared and shy and I’d really rather not interact with people some days.  I remember being worried about speaking out loud during Sunday School class when I was a little older than her.  I hated middle school and never had anyone to talk to because I just couldn’t decipher the code everyone else seemed to know.

So when push comes to shove with my daughter, I try to not push or shove.  I try to let her tip-toe into the world at her own pace.  I hope that she’ll stop looking back to see if I’m still waiting and watching, that she will understand that I’m always waiting for her, even if she can’t see me.

Mostly though, I just hope that tomorrow morning she doesn’t cry.  Or I might.

9 thoughts on “Separation anxiety

  1. I agree with Kris, you are a wise woman! Your post(s) have been striking a cord with me lately. It is funny how our lives are often so alike. I have also been feeling like I cannot keep up and all is crazed. Tomorrow I will lead my last two meetings as a WW leader. And then I will start to pick up all the pieces and hopefully get them together in time to start school in September!


  2. My first born was born not wanting anyone but me to hold her. All three of my kids have had separation anxiety at some point and usually for longer than most other kids. Preschool didn’t work out too well with my youngest and I am seriously worried if she will handle kindergarten. We will see. she has a way of surprising me. I am in total agreement that shoving kids into situations they aren’t ready for is not the answer. Choices are always good, too.


  3. I can’t tell who are grands are like. Maybe from the unknown other side of the family, as E’s mother was adopted. We can at least trace ND’s appearance, but Zach’s is an unknown.


  4. Great post. I have been slowly learning that my children are not copies of me or my husband, but they are their own individual. I’m also learning to embrace all the ways they are unique. It’s not always easy. Parenting is the hardest job in the world. And also the most rewarding. Thanks for this important reminder.


  5. My natural children are a mixture of both their parents and likewise my adopted children (I knew their parents when I was a teen)
    My grand hoodlums are a mixture of their parents but I can see some of me and 1 of sisters in one of the twins.

    Genetics plays a much bigger role in people then some of us may think.


  6. It is very humbling to see some of the characteristics you don’t really care for in yourself or your spouse become manifest in your children. Not that I would know anything about that really, since everyone in my family is perfect. (*snort*)

    My 4yo daughter will take my face in her hands, put her nose up to mine, and say, “Honey. Yissen to me. I need some choklit milk, okay? Okay.” It’s like hearing a tape recording of my own voice.

    Glad your girl did have a good time at VBS.

    I finally posted something at my blog, so come by if you are so inclined. And bring me some choklit milk.


  7. Thank you so much for this post. I found your blog because I was searching for “separation anxiety” and “kindergarten,” because my son tonight totally freaked out . . . at VBS. I was actually surprised that he went so willingly last night, because I’d expected barnacle boy, but he was fine, he had a blast, he babbled all day about how he excited he was to go back, and then curled up in a little ball and refused to speak to anyone. I had to give up and bring him home. I keep thinking that this has got to resolve itself before he starts kindergarten in a month, but I’m at a loss as to how to handle it. Thanks for making me feel like we’re a little more normal than I sometimes feel.


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