Playing the Odds


We always hope that our child will get the best characteristics from that special person we partnered with and ourselves. A winning combination. We hope that the less desirable pieces of ourselves will be filtered out in the next generation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

Our second daughter was an easy baby. She ate well. She slept well once she discovered her thumb. She rolled with the punches of a dual-sibling household. Her laugh came easily as did her socialization. We labeled her gregarious and thought for sure she’d be comfortable in any social situation as she grew.

Partway through her year of preschool, she began complaining about going. No one likes me. No one plays with me. Kindergarten followed with more of the same, with daily fights of shoe, sock, and shirt selection – one of which ruffled me so much I slid into a tree one snowy morning. This year, it intensified, with afternoons added to the agenda. Denial of a specific snack or a disagreement with one of her sisters would send her reeling. Over-the-top anger. Violent outbursts. Negative self-narrative.

My husband and I tried extra cuddles and attention, positive reinforcement, avoided giving such outbursts attention . . . it only seemed to escalate. It was not a fun time, to say the least. What finally pierced my heart was when she began with self-harming statements.

I’m just going to throw myself out the window and break my head.

It would be better if I just died.

How would you feel then?

I doubted whether my first grader had horribly morbid intentions. I sensed it was a more dramatic way to express inexpressible incredibly pissed-off feelings (which was later confirmed by the school psychologist) and that she didn’t fully understand the gravity of her declarations. BUT – and a big one – I’ve read and heard enough about mental illness to know you never take such statements lightly. And I’m a former English/Language Arts teacher, used to evaluating journals and writing pieces where many such revelations come out in school. Teachers and school personnel have strict protocols to follow surrounding such language – even if it’s erring on the side of caution.

What scared me most about these statements was that they reminded me so very much of my own running narrative born of postpartum depression: I hate my life. Just kill me now.

Had my child inherited the very worst part of me, the part from which I truly hoped she and her sisters would be free? In tense conversations after the children went to bed and my husband and I tried to find a solution to this seemingly impossible one, I said, You know why I’m paranoid, right? He did. Though he’s never seen me as such, he knows I think of myself as broken, flawed, and that my worst fear is that it affects the children. What if she’s got what I have? This fear hadn’t fully formed itself in my soul until those words issued from her mouth, but then it blossomed exponentially. We agreed to make an appointment with the school psychologist.

Fortuitously, the school psychologist’s curriculum already brought her into the first grade classroom discussing identification and expression of feelings. Ironic. Perhaps my anxious little bean hadn’t progressed far enough into the curriculum, but my concerns meshed nicely with the goals of the program. The school psychologist helped us extend and reinforce what they’d been discussing in the classroom in our home.

It wasn’t an instant fix. Though it started with a great amount of enthusiasm, a week into our initiatives had my daughter ripping up the yellow diamond of construction paper listing her triggers (you know, the warning zone meant to make her more aware of them in order to cut them off at the pass). In her calm moments, she could tell you exactly what bothered her. When she was seeing red, there was no talking her down until she’d run herself out. Closer to the end of the year now, I hear her using more of the language from the school program on her own. It makes me happy to see her acknowledging ‘rock brain’ moments and telling said rock to get lost.

And that, I think, is the memory and lesson I choose to take away from this year. For all the machinations I took this year, in the end, it was she who enacted the change. She has the power to determine her own destiny. She is not a mini-me, though she looks an awful lot like I did as a child. She isn’t my clone, complete with my anxious tendencies. After all, she inherited her father’s temper, too. 😉 She is a unique individual who will create her own unique solutions for any problem she encounters.

Being aware of how my genetic make-up may influence the presentation of her behaviors is good to keep in the back of my mind, but it shouldn’t be in the forefront.  Using what I learned in my struggles to create a support system for her only makes sense and compassionate parenting, but it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy.  She is a certain percentage of me, a certain percentage of her father, but she’s 100% herself.


a onesie gifted to us by a dear friend

a onesie gifted to us by a dear friend


Related Posts:

Vantage Point

You Got Some ‘Splainin to Do


A Child Registers Who’s Raising Him


“But a child is a sensitive instrument. You can hide the factual truth from a child, but you can’t blanket influence. Your agitation will out, and over time it will mold your child’s temperament as surely as water wears at rock. It was not until I was nearly twenty, deep into my own way with anxiety, that my mother spoke to me explicitly about her anxiety and the grief it caused her. But by that time she essentially talking to herself. I’d become her. It wasn’t merely genetics. It was the million little signals: the jolting movements, the curious fears, the subtle avoidances, the panic behind the eyes, the terror behind the hugs, the tremor in the caresses. It was the monkey. A child registers who’s raising him.”

– from Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith


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