The Cheese(s) Stand Alone

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This morning was the annual volunteer breakfast at the elementary school. The teachers and staff do an amazing job of putting together a morning of food, goodies and performances from the students. I went into the morning expecting to see my daughter play a flute duet with a friend, and hopeful that my son would be able to perform a dance with the rest of the 4th grade. When the 4th grade classes entered the room, my son was not among them. I wasn’t surprised.

On the way home from school today he told me he was sorry he did not perform for me. He said, “I got as far as the door and started to have a panic attack, so I just waited outside for everybody else. I was sad” When he said that I could picture his sad little face, watching from outside, all alone. And then I thought about how much of his day he is choosing to spend alone, just to avoid potential anxiety or panic triggers. He sits at a table in the far back of the classroom (and sometimes he sits under that table). He walks outside on his own when he feels panic beginning to hit. He eats lunch in the classroom. He plugs headphones into the laptop at home. He wears headphones connected to a tablet and/or keeps his head in a book when we are out. He sits in the empty chapel instead of the sanctuary at church.

The cheese stands alone…But in large part he has chosen to be alone. He is my introverted child. Even in “good” times, he has often chosen solitude over a group. On some level he is actually quite comfortable with being alone and at this point in time, he is happier alone than he is with other people. Being alone is easier for him, and when so much else is hard it’s easier for all of us to let him be alone. So while my heart aches a little for the forced nature of his current solitude, I know that it isn’t a battle we need to fight.

But then there is my extroverted daughter. My kid who has always been a seeker of companionship. This is the kid who did not sleep through the night until she was 6, simply because she would wake up and want to see a person. This is also the kid who makes friends wherever she goes, and has often befriended the lonely looking kids on the playground. I can’t picture that cheese standing alone. She doesn’t do alone. Or so I thought.

I overheard the kids talking before school this morning. My son asked my daughter why she has been playing alone at recess. She quickly shut him down, clearly not wanting to answer his question, but I wondered about it all day. This afternoon I asked her if she was in fact playing alone at recess. Turns out she is.

She talked about not being able to control her emotions – crying easily, getting mad – and not wanting to be near her friends when she feels that way. She said she would rather be alone than make her friends sad. She said she’d rather be a little sad, then make her friends sad. My heart broke. The cheese does stand alone. She is choosing to be alone, even though it is upsetting her.

There are so many possibilities that could be the cause of her emotional state. Many of those possibilities are “typical” tween girl stuff. My gut tells me that isn’t the case this time through. It is emotionally exhausting for all of us right now. My son may be the one battling anxiety and panic, but the rest of us are battling as well. I have a feeling that emotional exhaustion is the likely culprit of her rampant emotions.

I can only imagine how hard it is to be her right now. Since her brother’s anxiety and panic attacks have crept into his school day, kids know there is something wrong. She has told me in the past that she doesn’t want to see kids treat her brother differently, and that she also doesn’t want them to ask her what is wrong with him. My daughter is a fighter and a champion of those who can’t fight for themselves, but she is also 9 and has reached her limit. Both of my kids are navigating a minefield each day, and for their own separate reasons they have decided it is easier to do that alone.

There are 11 days of school left. I am hopeful the summer will give us all the time we need to get the upper hand in this battle and start the new school year fresh and strong. But for the next 11 days….the cheese(s) will stand alone.

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