School is in full swing and a new chapter has begun in the Engelhart story. My oldest son started all day, every-day Kindergarten a couple of weeks ago. His little brother, who is three, started preschool last week. And I try not to do a happy dance every time I wave goodbye. I can usually contain the impulse, until they are out of view!
It’s not that I don’t love my children. I really and truly do with all of my heart! But this mama can use a reprieve from the chaos that seems to be my every-day existence. And for two days a week, for three solid hours, it’s just me and my one year-old daughter. It’s amazing how peaceful life can feel for a change.
I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t always so calm or excited about this life transition. It turns out there were a few things I had to work through to get to where I am today.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, I am NOT the mom who has a hard time parting with her children. I actually used to feel guilty for how giddy I would get at the prospect of dropping the little tykes off at Grandpa and Grandma’s house for a weekend away. Is it bad, that the concept of “out of sight, out of mind” actually applies to me and my kids? I may be exaggerating a bit, or maybe not….
As we went school supply shopping in preparation for “the big day,” I had no qualms about sending my first-born off to school. I wasn’t worried about the bus ride back and forth. Despite the horror stories that I have heard about the common core curriculum that is being taught in public schools these days, I wasn’t really concerned about the education that my son would get.
I was honestly looking forward to all the new adventures and personal growth that he would soon be experiencing. And that is exactly how I felt, right up, until I walked into the Kindergarten open house a few days before classes were going to begin.
We entered the aged brick building that was bursting with activity, and I was struck by how BIG everything looked compared to the private preschool he had attended. My breath quickened. As we made our way down the hallway and into his classroom, everything seemed so sterile compared to the bright and toy-filled rooms he had enjoyed. My heart-rate started to increase.
We found my son’s name over the cubby where he would put his backpack and jacket each day. As I gazed down the row of names, I realized I couldn’t pronounce about a quarter of them. That’s about the time I noticed some of the other moms in the room, wearing their Muslim head scarves and speaking to their kids in a language that I didn’t understand. My chest suddenly felt a little tight.
In the hustle and bustle of the evening, a familiar and unwelcome emotion was stirring in my heart and mind. Panic. I was having a minor anxiety attack. A phenomenon I used to experience quite often, but haven’t felt in a very long time.
Now to be clear, I was not upset because my son would be associating with people who look or talk or hold different beliefs from us. I knew that this was going to be the case when I sent him to school and honestly believe it’s a positive thing. I don’t consider myself a racist or prejudiced person. I suppose that deep down in my heart and mind there is probably some personal bias towards the people and things that seem to be most similar to us. Whether innate or taught, I think its human nature to at least initially be a little skeptical, or perhaps even a little afraid, of what seems different or unknown.
But that is not what was causing the unexpected anxiety that day. Rather, it was the realization that my son would be entering into a situation – ALL DAY EVERY DAY – that I could not control.
All at once I was confronted with the fact that, up to this point, my son has lived a fairly sheltered life. My husband and I have been the primary influencers in his little world. We have essentially been able to regulate the type of environments he has been in; who he plays with, what he watches on TV, what he learns about Spirituality and life and family values.
But that was all about to drastically change. The lack of control I felt in that moment proved overwhelming, and quite honestly, a little fearful.
The definition of anxiety is: “A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.”
That definitely described me on open house night! Thankfully, I kept it together enough that my family didn’t notice the three-ring-circus of emotions that was playing out in my mind.
It took me a day or two of processing everything before I was able to finally work through my feelings. I tend to think out loud, so of course, I had to engage in some phone and Facebook “therapy” with my mom and a few trusted friends.
One of those conversations proved to be invaluable for me. My friend, who has kids in the same school district, listened to my concerns and then kindly responded: “I have found, that what seems overwhelming to you, all the new experiences and things you can’t control, have actually taught my kids to appreciate our family values and beliefs even more.”
I love how God will often speak to us through “human translators.” It was as if the Holy Spirit took my friend’s words and planted them right smack into my heart and mind. She didn’t say anything that was earth shattering. However, it was just what I needed to give me a focus shift.
As my thoughts moved from my fear to my faith, the “perceived threat,” that had moments earlier seemed so big and overpowering, suddenly seemed very small. I even felt a little foolish for being so overwhelmed.
I breathed a prayer, and was reminded of a couple of things: First of all, my kids are not just mine. They belong to God. He loves them beyond comprehension and isn’t going to abandon them. Secondly, our job as Christian parents isn’t to control every aspect of our children’s lives. Our job is to model our family’s values and faith and to provide a positive home environment where Jesus is honored and made known. But ultimately, I want my kids to fall in love with the Lord on their own terms, not because it was forced on them.
Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace that surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
These past couple of weeks have reminded me again that I am not immune to worry and anxiety and fear. These are normal emotions that, when given too much attention, can start to enslave me. Thankfully there is a remedy for the problem. When I switch my focus from my fears to my faith, I am always blessed with an incredible gift: Peace
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus. (John 14:27)