Neuroses at the Playground
My wife and I are are lucky enough to live next to a playground, and since we have a three year old boy bursting with energy, we spend an awful lot of time there. Unlike his father, or his mother, for that matter, Declan is exceedingly outgoing. He’s quick to talk to strangers and start up conversations and seems to have no problem making friends.
And that is wonderful. It’s really wonderful, but when I see him approach a five year old stranger on the playground and ask him if he wants to play superheroes, a shiver of vicarious anxiety courses through me. Because when I was a tot, and then a child, and then a teenager, and then a full-on adult, nothing have me more intense, paralyzing, body and mind-consuming anxiety quite like interacting with strangers.
It was the truest form of torment for me growing up. My idea of hell involves spending entire centuries standing awkwardly around the entrance of Mather high school, trying to avoid eye contact and human interaction as I try to will myself into a state of invisibility. “Human interaction” has never worked out that well for me. That's why I kind of prefer to interact with the world from the comfortable distance of my lap top. Let’s just say that I’m profoundly grateful that I have somehow found a way to make a living and support my family without having to go to an office, or interact with human beings other than my wife and son.
So when I see Declan approach kids on the playground I sometimes get nervous on his behalf. I get nervous because when I was his age, nothing good ever happened of interacting with other kids, particularly strangers. But my history and my past is not Declan’s history and Declan’s past. My history is not his destiny. My history is not even my own destiny.
I have to be careful not to project my own anxiety and issues onto my son. Just because I grew up looking at strangers as scary and terrifying and potentially dangerous doesn’t mean that my son has to feel the same way. My son likes people. He trusts people. And while I don’t entirely understand how anybody could feel that way, given the fucked-up state of the world, I thank God every day that my son is a joyful spirit, and not a big bundle of nerves like his old man.
As a depressive, neurotic parent, one of my biggest goals is to raise a child who is not depressed or neurotic. I don’t want the lingering ghosts of my traumatic upbringing to cast a shadow over my son’s overwhelmingly sunny existence. So when Declan approaches a child he doesn’t know, and earnestly asks him if he wants to play superheroes, or knows “The Monster Mash”, it’s important to remember that my son does not have the anxieties and fear that I knew at his age. God willing, he won’t ever have them. I know that I can help set my son on a healthy, functional path by seeing his childhood outside the prism of my own formative traumas. Just because I grew up terrified of human contact and despairing about everything, doesn’t mean I have to pass that curse down to my boy.
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