Wednesday, August 15, 2018

First Day of School {Separation Anxiety Disorder}

She is standing on the sidewalk with a forced smile...her teeth clenched and her eyes flickering a million and one emotions. She watches smiling and laughing children bolt out of the back seats of the long line of cars.  Adult voices can be heard shouting over the slamming car sounds.  "Have a great day!"  Kids resembling pack mules, their backpacks full of school supplies and lunchboxes in their hands skip to the door.  Some respond to the greeters at the door as they hustle in, often not turning around to acknowledge the adults who are calling to them.  A few look back with quick smiles and wave.

Meanwhile, her hand is trapped in a seven year old death grip.  The boy doesn't appear to be in distress. His facial expression is blank.  Only she can sense the tension in his body just by the small connection of their hands.  He is a coiled spring ready to flee.

She tilts her head slightly to the side and gives him an encouraging look.  She knows she is not convincing enough.  She takes a deep breath and attempts to release her own building tension.  Eyebrows up, smile softening and widening, she squeezes his hand quickly, like a small little hug.  He looks up and gives her a tentative smile.  His soft large brown eyes pleading.  The pupils become a large deep pool reflecting all of his fears. 

The woman then pulls her gaze away and scans the vicinity with a helpless look.  She is treading in a violent sea of children, alone, and is frantically searching for a lifeline.  She catches the eye of another woman who approaches with a warm open smile and immediately greets the boy asking his name.  The death grip starts to resemble more of a shackle.  The child shifts warily backwards, his body pulling down like the ball at the end of a chain. But he smiles and says his name.  He is still linked to her and feels safe.

The greeter, who is hunched down, quickly looks up to the woman with questions flitting in her eyes.  The woman shrugs her shoulders apologetically and lifts their hands to show that are irrevocably entwined.  The greeter seems to quickly come to a conclusion and reaches down to break the firm joining.  The boy's deep reflecting pools start spilling over his eyelashes.  His chin trembles.  His body starts shaking.  A tiny contained sob emerges from the small body.  The greeter firmly grasps the boy's hand and speaks soft words as she pulls him away while the woman calmly reassures with the words "I love you and I will be back."

The woman protectively covers her chest as the child leans back and drags his feet behind the person who could be considered rescuer by the woman...torturer by him.  There is a deep sharp pain, like a knife slashing her heart, as she hears the wailing from the boy.

The children that have been happily launching themselves from the cars start slowing down and staring.  An uncomfortable silence.   Some looking on with confusion.  Some with smirks.  Others with disdain.   There is judgement on the faces of the adults in the vicinity.  She internally screams.  She has successfully launched her other three boys into the world in what was considered a healthy and normal fashion.  She left her oldest boy at a college dorm, 1400 miles away from home, without any trouble.  He actually hinted that she should leave the campus early because he didn't need her.

She wants to shout to and from the rooftops that this child....this child is different. 

Instead, the woman releases the breath she has been holding since she walked into the little boy's room, early that morning, to wake him up from his sleep.  She straightens her arms, dons on imaginary armor and wills her feet to take her back to her car.

The floodgates pour out as soon as she closes the door.  She knows it isn't over. 

The woman trudges through her morning, pretending to be occupied, but her thoughts will be far away.   In her mind, she sees him in the classroom.  She knows he won't cry all day.  She knows that he will play on the playground. She knows he will make friends and be kind to others.  She knows he will gradually rely on the teacher to be his temporary lifeboat during the day.  She is also prepared for the journal entries in his childish handwriting expressing love for his mother.  His fears that something bad will happen to her.  His fears that she won't come back to get him.  His fears that she will be gone forever.

At lunchtime, she braces herself.  She pictures him sitting at the lunch table when he is at the lowest point of his day.  She hopes the tiny note she slipped in his lunch box will prevent the inevitable sadness she can't erase.  Maybe, this time, the boy will see her promise to go to the pool after school, and it will give him something to look forward to.  But she knows better. There will be a phone call from the school.  He will plead a tummy ache.  She is fully aware that it is a real tummy ache, but she must quietly and firmly send him back to class.  She cannot swoop in and relieve him of his pain.

In the afternoon, the clock seems to move at a glacial pace.  She arrives at the front of the school, willing the doors to open as soon as they can.  The warbling voice that can only be the end of day announcements can be heard outside.  The doors open and children flood out like the parting of the sea.  She recognizes the boy, his head of white hair a beacon.  She witnesses his eyes flitting everywhere, searching for his salvation.  He can't find her immediately and looks frantically at the nearest adult to gain assurance that all will be okay.  The adult is distracted with others and misses the signal.  Red creeps up from below the neckline, slowly reaching his eyes.  His chin trembles, his eyes fill up.

The woman shouts his name and waves frantically to get his attention.  She silently prays that he notices her before the dam breaks. His eyes alight on her and his face beams.  His hands that were clenched, loosen. He turns to the adult and cheerily waves goodbye.

The boy walks with a skip to the woman and she enfolds him into a hug, like a warm cocoon.  She whispers in his ear "I am here. I love you."  She feels the tension she knew he bore all that day starting to release.  He expels his stream of conscience on the ride home. It's a jumble of thoughts...his accomplishments, his failures, his triumphs, and his fears.

On the surface, it appears to be over.  But the woman knows.  It's not over.  This is just the calm before the next storm.  The boy will try to avoid or prolong homework in attempt to ignore the ticking clock into the evening.  The battle at bedtime will commence.  The woman will forgo the quiet time she treasures at night in order to repeatedly and gently reprimand him to go to sleep.  She holds his hand--his death grip returns--as he drifts off.  Night represents the fast approaching new day.  Night terrors or nightmares may arrive.  She softly whispers and strokes his back to soothe him while he slumbers.  The woman finally creeps away, but without any relief.

Tomorrow...they will have to do it all over again.


For more information on Separation Anxiety Disorder please visit:



  1. This is SO SAD. Is this your own experience with a child of yours? I know nothing of the situation but wanted to ask if it has to be this way? Have you considered teaching him at home? Home education is a wonderful thing : ) and it could just be for a year at a time, if that made the decision easier. Whatever would be best for your son. I'm so sorry you both are going through this.


I cannot wait to hear what you have to say! Seriously! It makes my day!


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