My middle son, Patrick, has been suffering with some anxiety of late. It's heartbreaking to see because he holds his heart (out of fear it will cease beating), has trouble breathing and complains of a stomach ache. He told me he was afraid he was dying. He was afraid to go upstairs to take a shower last night because it was dark.
Although my initial reaction was one of impatience with the drama, I took a deep breath and realized that he's probably upset about something and I simply needed to get him to talk.
While he was in the shower, Ryan and I talked about any problems with kids in the neighborhood. I learned that there's a posse of teenagers in Bay who call themselves the Chaos Crew. So far their antics center on vandalism, but one kid at the park the other night suggested they might carry guns. Patrick can't shake the thought. There were a lot of other things that scared him, but mostly he was fearful in general.
I know the feeling well and it saddens me to think my boy is suffering in any way. And so, with Ryan's help because they share a room, we sat on their beds and talked about what makes Patrick happy. He couldn't articulate anything at first. But slowly, he started to talk, starting with, "Spaghetti!" (Leave it to an almost 10-year-old to start with food.) And then he and Ryan talked about how kids in the neighborhood sometimes make up stupid stories, but that they aren't true. Ryan said he would look out for Patrick.
The three of us sat there talking and laughing for two hours. At first Patrick echoed the things that Ryan does well (playing catcher, football, basketball), but then he started adding his own ideas (playing with my friends, swimming, reading, ice cream, Mom). It dawned on me that I couldn't remember the last time we had simply sat and talked. It was revealing in so many small ways, but mostly it revealed that Patrick, the classic middle child, often doesn't get the chance to use his voice. And it's up to me and his dad to figure out how he can best express himself and, more important, be heard. I told him about writing down his feelings. Sometimes they don't look so scary when you write them down.
He wears worry on his face like a favorite old sweater. But as the hours passed, his face visibly lightened, he laughed often and that smile that can melt my heart came easily. And the concern and compassion that Ryan felt for his brother truly touched me. He's nearly 12 and sometimes kids that age can be self-centered. But he was genuinely concerned about his little brother and willing to help. And he did, just by listening.
I looked at my watch and it was 12:30! We may pay the price today with a bit of crankiness, but then again maybe not. Patrick went to sleep with a lighter heart and a smile for the first time in a few weeks. And so did I…