Category Archives: fear

How Big is Your Fear?


It was a big day. It was Dylan’s first day of early morning band practice at school, and it was my first day of work.

Did I mention I got a job? After a brief twenty-year hiatus, I’m putting my M.F.A. in Modern Dance and Choreography to good use as a part-time creative movement and beginning ballet teacher at my local YMCA. I’ve kept a low profile about it because I’m so freaking excited and happy to have the opportunity to do what I love (and get paid!), and I don’t want anything to jinx it.

“My stomach hurts.” Dylan’s first words upon waking up were ominous, but they didn’t scare me. When you have a kid with anxiety, unexplained stomachaches are a common occurrence. I know because I get them, too.

My gut told me he was worried about the band. Truth be told, I was a bit on edge, too. After eight years as a stay-at-home mom, it was scary to be accountable to anyone other than my kids. I had deadlines and responsibilities as a writer, but for the most part, I worked when, where, and how I wanted. Now, I’d be clocking in and out on a weekly basis.

I made breakfast and sent Dylan upstairs to get dressed. He slogged through all of it. He barely touched his food. “Are you afraid of going to band practice?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A little bit.”

“I know you’re nervous, but I want you to go because you’re a talented drum player and I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a great time. If you’re tummy still hurts after the practice, go to the nurse and I’ll come get you, but I have a feeling you’ll feel much better once you get there and get settled. Trying new things is scary. I get it. I really do.”

He agreed but continued to trudge.

I went to my bedroom and into my closet to fetch a small, round, hand-painted wooden box that I used to hold hair pins. It was a gift from a choreographer back when I was in college. She gave a different box to each dancer backstage before our first performance. Mine was red with raised streaks and waves of black, white, and gray across the top. My name was painted on the inside of the lid.

It was the first time I performed at a venue that wasn’t on campus. Instead of the audience being filled with teachers, friends, and family, it was filled with teachers, friends, family, and complete strangers who paid actual money to see the show. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once, and receiving that precious gift eased my nerves.

I told Dylan about the performance and the box and how scared I was to perform that night. Then I asked him, “How big is your fear?”

“Big,” he said.

“Show me with your hands.” He spread his hands wide like he held a beach ball in front of his chest.

“Put it in the box. Squish it so it will fit.” He looked at me like I was nuts, but he followed my directions.

Once his fear was safely in the box, I closed the lid. “It’s mine now. I’ll hold your fear so you can let it go. Go get your socks and shoes on.”

Still, he lumbered. We were going to be late if we didn’t get in the car in the next two minutes. I bent down to help him with his socks and that’s when he projectile vomited all over himself, the kitchen counter, the bar stools, the floor, and me. It even landed on the lenses of my glasses.

He was definitely nervous about band practice…and he also had the dreaded stomach bug. My big fear of vomit and even bigger fear of my kids getting sick on my first day of work came true. It was a good thing I unearthed that special little box. Hopefully there was enough room in it to hold my fear, too.



Filed under anxiety, fear, motherhood, Uncategorized, work

Feasting On Tragedy


I attended my first writing conference last weekend. It was exhilarating and exhausting. It was scary (I have a serious shy person problem) and fun. Mostly, it was exciting. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I met new people. I read my work out loud. I talked to people who I want to be when I grow up, and I didn’t say anything stupid (mostly). I learned a ton, and I even slept on a bunk bed in a dorm!

By the time Sunday morning arrived, I was beyond tired, but I was inspired and anxious to get home and do ALL the things I learned to reach my goals big and small. Everything was awesome. And then I saw the news ticker at the bottom of the television screen in the cafeteria at breakfast.


I finished my breakfast, attended the last session and closing ceremony, and loaded up my car for the long drive home. At check-out, where I handed over the keys to my dorm room, I saw the news ticker at the bottom of the television screen in the office of residential services.



I got in my car, turned on one of the news channels on the satellite radio, and listened to the horror unfold for the next four hours while I made my way home. Just like after 9/11 and Aurora and Sandy Hook (and so on), I had to take it in. I had to feel the sadness and pain and fear and anger. I had to absorb it and let it race through my veins because why were those people experiencing unimaginable terror, shock, and loss and not me? Why was I having the time of my life at a writing conference? Why was I alive? Why were my children safe?

I fed the beast.

Halfway home, I stopped for coffee at a highway rest area. I was afraid to go inside. Eventually I did, but not without wondering the whole time if I were safer near the front entrance or toward the back of the building. I thought about how when I go to see a movie with my kids, we’re not only told to silence our cell phones, but also to be on the lookout for “suspicious characters” and to know where the nearest exits are. When did this become normal? When I returned to my car, I turned the news back on.

I fed the beast, and the universe took note.

On Monday, the strap on my favorite pair of shoes broke on my walk to get the kids at school. That evening, I noticed a mark on my face under my right eye that had changed from a red spot to a pimple-like bump just like the one that turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma a few years ago. I made an appointment to see my dermatologist on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, we lost Internet access at the house all day. Ugh. That afternoon, a police officer at school pick-up gestured aggressively at me because he didn’t like the way I brought my car to a stop at the crosswalk.

By Wednesday morning, I was convinced that if the sun was shining, the earth was burning. My shoe broke because I shop too much and spend too much money. The Internet went down to distract me from doing my work because I didn’t deserve the indulgence of being a writer. The police officer singled me out because I was a bad, irresponsible mother. And obviously I had skin cancer. On my face. Again.

I was sweating the small stuff. All of it. Meanwhile, 49 innocent people were dead and another 53 were injured. All of their lives – and their family and friends’ lives – were forever changed. Forever broken.

I watched, I read, I listened. I fed the beast.

On my drive to the dermatologist, I listened to a news update about a two-year-old boy who was snatched from his father’s arms by an alligator and presumed dead at Disney World. And about an up-and-coming pop star from “The Voice” who was shot dead by a deranged fan. And about the wife of the nightclub shooter who knew of his of murderous plans but didn’t speak up.

I imagined the stitches, the bandages, and the scar I would have after another Mohs surgery on my face because I didn’t take good enough care of my skin.

I fed the beast.

After an anxious wait, the dermatologist walked into the examination room, looked at my face closely with special light, and said, “You have a pimple.”

You. have. a. pimple.

These four words ended my feast.

I didn’t have skin cancer. I didn’t shop too much (for the most part). I didn’t not deserve to be a writer. I wasn’t a bad or irresponsible mother. I convinced myself that taking on others people’s pain would alleviate their grief (and my guilt), but instead of creating light, I let darkness spread. I spiraled into an abyss of negativity. I had a bad week, but I was alive. My kids were safe.

I feasted on tragedy, and I made myself sick.

Interestingly, the last session of my writing conference was about self-care. It was about taking good physical and emotional care of ourselves – preventing pain, developing healthy sleep habits, taking breaks, communicating well, acknowledging Imposter Syndrome, and trusting that we’re good enough – in the midst of stress, chaos, work, and life in general.

I have not taken very good care of myself this week.

I’m still going to watch the news. I’m still going to feel helpless and heartbroken for the lives lost and ruined. I’m still going to imagine the unimaginable, and I’m still going to wonder why? Why? But I’m going to try to stop eating when I’m full. I’m going to remember that punishing myself won’t set anyone free and that tragedy will sadly always be there when I come back to the table.


Filed under anxiety, death, Disney World, fear

Is Today The Day?

Is today the day?

As a Sensory Mama, I ask this question a lot.

Sometimes it oozes with hope and optimism. It’s as much an exclamation as it is a question.

Is today the day you try scrambled eggs?!

Is today the day you go upstairs by yourself?!

[Insert rainbows and unicorns here.]

Other times, it’s a personal plea. A prayer.

Is today the day you eat chicken? (Dear God, please let it be today.)

Is today the day you take a shower by yourself? (C’mom. Pleeeeease.)

I’ve asked it, murmured it, wept it, yelled it, and thought it many times over the years.

Is today the day you go in a bounce house or wear pants or sleep in your bed instead of on the floor or sit at the dinner table or push yourself on a big kid swing or go down a tube slide or tolerate a hand dryer or stay outside for fireworks or sit in the same room as “Finding Nemo”?

The reason for the question is because almost all of my son’s sensory victories have, in the end, been unexpected surprises. Sure, there’s been OT, storyboarding, behavior journals, practice runs, question and answer sessions and such, but over time, I’ve realized that my agenda – my timetable, my expectation, and my desire – has absolutely nothing to do with his. I can push, encourage, help, hug, dance, and cheer (and, believe me, I do), but only he can decide when to defeat the tentacles of fear and anxiety that wrap themselves tightly, inextricably, and insidiously around him.

Sometimes I know the answer to the question before I even ask it. Is today the day you try pizza, hummus, a slice of turkey, rice, or fill in the blank food? Not a chance in hell, but I ask it anyway because I won’t give up and I won’t let him throw in the towel either.

Sometimes I don’t know the answer to the question. Is today the day you let me leave you at a drop-off party? Is today the day you go on Splash Mountain? When I sense that there’s a chance (or that the answer isn’t a flat-out “no”), I do whatever I can to help him harness the courage he needs to succeed.

A few months ago, we took the kids to Universal Studios Orlando with my parents. My son wanted to go on The Simpsons Ride as much as he wanted theme park popcorn at nine o’clock in the morning. In other words, he wanted it badly.

Is today the day you go on The Simpsons Ride at Universal?

We tried twice in a row (we had express passes so the wait was short), but he backed out both times as soon as he reached the entrance to the ride. Everyone, including the employees, tried to convince him to do it, but he wouldn’t budge. He wasn’t ready, so we moved on.

We danced with SpongeBob SquarePants in a parade, explored Diagon Alley, went on Transformers: The Ride-3D, ate lunch, saw Shrek 4-D, rode Minion Mayhem, and spent way too much time in the Universal Studios Store (thanks, Grandma!). Hours later, as we dragged our hot, sweaty, and tired legs toward the exit – toward air conditioning, the hotel pool, a shower, a glass of wine, and dinner – he announced that he wanted to try again.

A perfectly sane and reasonable response to his request would’ve been a big, exhausted, sweaty, “No” or “Maybe next time,” but I could feel it. We all could. His desire to go on The Simpsons Ride – to face his fear – was palpable. So, Mike (Father of the Year, obviously) walked him all the way back to the ride while the rest of us idled in the shade with water and snacks. We waited and waited and waited some more. Finally, my phone lit up and I saw this…


He did it! He battled the tentacles. That day was the day, and it was awesome. When we met up again, he declared that The Simpsons Ride was the best ride EVER, and, fittingly, he bought a pair of Homer Simpson slippers that he’s worn to bed every night since.

Thankfully, the day has come for many of his challenges, which is reason to celebrate and, perhaps more importantly, to have hope for those that he continues to battle. I’m still waiting for the day he eats anything besides plain spaghetti, and when I lose my faith (and I often do), I force myself to think about The Simpsons Ride and all of the other victories over fear and anxiety that we’ve experienced along the way. All of these challenges – however insignificant they seem now – were insurmountable at the time. Reminding myself of the hard work we’ve put in gives me the strength to plow ahead.

We just moved to a new town in a new state in a new part of the country. Everything is new. New house. New bedroom. New basement. New neighborhood. New neighbors. New camp. New restaurants. New menus. New school. New teachers. New friends. New routine. New is our new motto, and whether it’s sensory-related or not, I know that countless “Is today the day?” challenges lie ahead.

Whatever your child’s fears are, don’t lose your spirit. I promise you, I won’t either. There’s way too much at stake. Just this morning, I whispered to myself, “Is today the day he goes upstairs to his bedroom by himself?” And guess what? It was.


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Filed under anxiety, fear, moving, sensory processing disorder