My seven-year-old has a lot of fears. And who can blame him? His whole life, the world has seemed like a very scary place.
He got sick when he was nine months old, and never really got better until around his fourth birthday. He had four surgeries in four years.
He had constant ear infections, asthma, bronchitis, and sinus infections. We had to keep him out of dust and long grass. He was denied the free-range exploration of the family ranch that our older son so enjoyed as a little boy.
An allergy attack inevitably led to an asthma attack or an ear infection, often both. He learned that outside made him sick, and sick was miserable.
When he was four, just as he was beginning to have long stretches of health, I got sick. Really, really sick. And life became scary and uncertain again. He never even got time to catch his breath.
It would be two-and-a-half years from the onset of my illness before I attained any kind of real control over my symptoms. In the meantime, our little boy grew, as did his fears.
And then, just as my health was improving, COVID-19 happened. It slammed into us like a hurricane, ripping the foundation of our lives out from under us once again.
For our little boy, that sealed the deal.
The pandemic assured him what he was pretty sure he already knew… Life is to be feared, to be hidden from. Better to stay home and surround yourself with the familiar. Better to take no risks.
He’s not just afraid of mom’s illness, or his own health issues (which have largely resolved), or even the coronavirus.
He’s afraid of bad guys stealing him from his bed at night. He’s afraid of our house blowing down every time there is a storm.
He’s so afraid of snakes and cactus that when we hike he fails to see the wonder of nature all around.
He’s afraid mom and dad will leave him alone, even though that’s never happened.
He’s afraid of our house sinking into quicksand.
I’ve talked to experts. I’ve had him talk to experts.
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve poured into thinking (mom code for “worrying”) about my son’s fears.
Only recently, it occurred to me, as I’m beginning to regain some peace, to catch my own breath after the roller coaster that has been the last six years of our lives, that what my son really needs is to realize he isn’t powerless.
And so, as I look at this child – this brilliant, hilarious, kind, always singing and dancing, entirely unique human who is my youngest son – there are some things I think he needs to know:
You are not powerless. You can do anything you set your mind to. It’s okay to dream big dreams, to try and fail. It’s okay to be disappointed, to be sad, to hurt. It’s okay to cry.
It’s okay to trust and love. Your people aren’t going anywhere. And even if they did (but they won’t) you have the ability to overcome it and love again.
You have all the skills, all the strength, all the power within your own heart and mind and soul to overcome anything life throws at you.
You are enough.
You are strong. You are smart. You are brave.
You stand up for what you believe. You know right from wrong. You are kind to everyone you meet.
You are good at so many things. But you need to know that Mom and Dad don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, we expect you to fail. A lot.
It’s scary to fail.
Success is fun, but failure is when you really learn about life. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way, it is far better to suffer failure than to never risk success.
It is on the other side of fear and failure that all the good stuff of life is discovered.
Nobody ever said life would be easy.
Yours certainly hasn’t been. But if you hide in your house forever, you’ll never really live.
If you hide behind those things that come easily to you, you’ll never grow.
If you hide your heart away, you’ll never fully love.
I know you think you can’t do hard things.
But that is a lie.
Dad and I might be partly to blame for this. We’ve done so much for you, because you were sick, because it was easier when I was tired and sick to just get something done rather than teach you to do it yourself, because we felt guilty for how hard it’s always been.
We promise to help you less, so you can grow. I know this sounds strange, but someday you will understand. How will you ever learn if we are always doing everything for you?
If we are always running to your rescue, you’ll never learn to trust yourself. You will forever question your own worth. That would be a tragedy.
Think of all the things you’ve already overcome.
How many shots have you had? How many needles have you faced? How many times have you been carried away by nurses, only to wake up groggy, confused, and hurting?
How many times have you been to the emergency room, for your own health as well as mine?
Do you remember sitting in your car seat as grandma rushed me to the ER? I’d collapsed in pain on the kitchen floor while you ate breakfast in your pjs.
You were completely calm, reassuring me, “It will be okay, Mom.”
Do you remember sitting in the ER for hours, waiting for answers, watching me writhe in pain, your little feet sticking out straight from the chair in that tiny, hot exam room?
You didn’t complain, though you must have been hungry. You didn’t cry, though you must have been scared.
Your kindness is your greatest strength.
Do you remember when we were watching Ellen, and she said that all she ever wanted was to make people happy, and you said, “That’s all I want, too, Mom!”
Do you remember all the times you played with the lonely kids at school? All the times you’ve offered to help others – friends, family, strangers?
You, young man, are incredible. You are a hero.
I know the world feels scary to you.
And you know what, sometimes the world is scary.
A very wise man named Nelson Mandela, who went to prison for fighting for freedom, said that he “…learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Do you remember all the times you’ve conquered fear in your young life?
Maybe not. But I do.
I remember every single time. And you, my dear son, are nothing short of amazing.
You have too much to bring to this world, too great a purpose, to allow fear to control your life.
You haven’t discovered your own power yet. But I know it is there.
You can do anything.
Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald