Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Missing the Mouse: Have I Made My Son Neurotic?

The day after we arrived in Orlando, Big Boy, Tiny Baby, and I visited Downtown Disney.  I was excited to introduce the dinosaur-obsessed Big Boy to the dinos at the T-Rex Cafe and thought we might just catch a glimpse of a Disney character or two.  Won't he be delighted, I mused.

[Big] Boy, was I wrong.

One look at the animatronic triceratops at the entrance to the restaurant and Big Boy was in floods of tears, running for the exit.  Things improved temporarily with a visit to the Lego Store, but deteriorated again when I, naively, suggested a ride on the children's train.  He eagerly agreed, but then - once again - melted down when he heard the train whistle, declaring the whole business "too loud" and "scary."

You can probably guess his reactions to a visit from Goofy and a carousel ride.

Later that afternoon, Big Boy and I were snuggling on the couch after his nap, reading and sharing a snack - one of those crystalline moments when I felt like bursting with love for my son.  Big Boy's mind was elsewhere.  Still thinking of his morning assault from the various members of the animal kingdom, Big Boy told me, "I feeled scared at that place."  I then noticed his cuticles, as ragged and torn as my own, and I had to wonder:

Have I made my toddler neurotic?

Personally, I tend toward anxiety.  I worry about almost everything, almost all the time.  I come by these habits honestly.  My mother is a chronic worrier, as was her mother before her.  And I fear that - through my genes or through my habits - Big Boy is the next in line to inherit this questionable prize.

This past summer, for instance, Big Boy and I attended a Mommy and Me swimming class.  Throughout the lessons, he would cleave to me, fearful of the water, fearful of being dropped, fearful of the other kids' splashing.  On the last day of the lessons, the kids were invited to slide down the waterslide with their parents.  I was surprised when Big Boy agreed to try.  Surprised and scared, that is: you see, I didn't want to go down the waterslide myself.  But, for his sake, I agreed as well.  We made our way up the ladder, me clinging to him as much as he was clinging to me.  When we got to the platform, he started to cry.  He declared the slide "scary" and back down we climbed - him in tears, me in relief.

But now I wonder: did my own fear on that slide platform transfer to him?  Have my neuroses passed from my body to his?

Is it my fault that a little boy who loves All Things Train had to leave a tame and pint-size ride because the train whistle was too noisy?  Or is he just two - funny and fickle and two - and I'm being even more neurotic than usual fearing that I've made my son neurotic?

A week in Orlando: no dinosaurs, no rides, no Magic Kingdom, no Mickey.

We missed the mouse. Whose fault was it?

Which elements of your own personality did you inherit from your parents?  Which do you see in your kids?

Image: Mouse-19-Dec-2004 by Roger McLassus via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I've got a mouse you can all have. Feel free to stop by and chase it. . .

    I think your son will enjoy what he chooses, at his own pace. My elder loved everything immediately and young. Younger was more hesitant and frightened for a number of years. Nothing hesitant or frightened about him now. Kids will become who they are on their own time. We live in a society where mothers are worrying too much. About everything. Just say no.

    Now about that mouse. . .

  2. I have to say BLW is right. Big Boy will come to what he wants and who he is in his time. Unfortunately, as adults, we seem to think things come, even to us, in our time. Not the case so don't worry. And if you must, I have a book on worrying that my 15 year old gave me for Christmas. You can borrow it.

  3. Children were given to us to make us worry. I imagine that years from now, when he is grown, you will laugh with Big Boy about the trip to Disney. My oldest son had some really weird sensory stuff when he was younger. Scared to death of "characters", could not listen to certain songs, and forget about going to the movies. This all worked its way through in time. He is fine now. First child syndrome? You know what they say -- kids are like pancakes - you always ruin the first one. :) Don't be too hard on yourself -- I think this is just how he is - no fault of yours. But go ahead and worry -- we all do.

  4. Well, Kristen, of COURSE it is your fault! You are the Momma--don't you know that everything, for his entire lifetime, is going to boil down to your inadequacy and failure to anticipate his needs? Of course, I'm joking with you, but I'm also feeling my own stabbing pain, because I know this worry/anxiety all too well. In fact, I'd like to give that anxiety an eviction notice, because I'm really tired of it squatting in my brain, stealing my snacks and using up all the hot water.

    Miss D. and Miss M. have both gone through phases of being fearful and clingy. And yes, I've done the same self-examination that you are doing, because I'm afraid of everything.

    I don't know if it helps any, but I'm solidly on the side of Big Boy--there is nothing cute about a life-sized Goofy. That thing be freaky!!!! And, as they asked in the movie "Stand by Me"--one of my all time favorite flicks--"What IS Goofy, anyways?"

  5. I don't have kids yet, but I can totally relate to this because I'm a total anxiety case myself when it comes to all things "scary". I sometimes joke that I got it from my Mom, but my sister's not that way at there's a genetic proof that it's not my Mom's fault! I think it's great your boy can name his fear.

  6. While we do each have our own personalities and inherited traits, children do tend to feed off of our anxieties.

  7. Oh My. This is a loaded question that taps into all my motherly angst.

    I suppose the only comfort I can take is in seeing how my first son is as sensitive and worrisome as me - while my daughter is a head-first-think-later sort, brave and full of drama. I think though we are of course, to some degree, molded by our parents and our upbringing, we are ultimately unique and will approach the world as we are uniquely designed to.

    Having said that, I also think that children are like sponges and that they will react to conflict and challenges in life as they see us respond. They will treat people as they see us treat them, and respond to difficulty as they see us tackle it.

    This is where my real fear sets in. How can I expect my children to be patient and loving to the world, when their mama is groggy and snipping at them on her way to get her first cup of coffee in the morning.

    Or when a moment of deep writing concentration is broken by the high-pitched whining of Mooooom and I react with an audible, disappointed sigh of frustration. A huff, where there should be patience and gentleness and respect.

    I suppose that's the trick to this whole parenting thing. To act as though we know enough to be parents, but to still accept that we're works in progress ourselves. And to, most importantly, give ourselves a little grace now and then.

  8. Ditto to what Queen said. It is such a fine dance, this mothering thing. To my chargrin my oldest son seems to have a bit of my OCD nature. Ever since he was a baby he has to categorize his toys - some days it's by color, others by size, etc. He is neat and tidy to a fault - and I mean that sincerely. He will sometimes freak out if something is amiss. There are days where I feel I've created a monster that will appear on Dr. Phil one day, pointing fingers at me.

  9. Again, the nature vs nurture question. I'm all for nature. As stated above... you can have two kids, both from you but totally different. You will not MAKE big boy neurotic but your reaction to his worries may sway him to continue his behavior or think twice about it. That's my take at least! I HATE spiders - am horrified by them - but I do my best in front of hannah to stay calm (while I squash it forcefully with my shoe) and tell her it's no big deal. Her initial reaction is horror but I'm hoping that as she sees it's not that big of a deal, she'll find it no big deal too. On the other hand, my screaming and running from bees in the front yard probably is NOT helping the situation...

    I wouldn't blame yourself EVER for these types of things. They either have it, or they don't!

  10. All of these women have offered such introspective answers. I am afraid that I cannot add to their sage advice. I can tell you, though, that thinking about this is important. I think we can often give our children unnecessary fears because of our anxieties. Thankfully, we can counteract this by encouraging them to try new things.

    I think you are doing a fine job. A superb job. You love your little guy, that is the most important thing.

  11. Yeah, I'm prone to anxiety, too. Luckily, my husband isn't, and so he's mellowed me out. But I got my anxiety from my dad, who spent ten days with us at Christmas, during which time MY anxiety reared it's ugly head more ferociously than usual. At one point my dad leaned over to my husband and said, "See where she gets it?" It honestly made me grateful for growing up.
    PS: When I have children of my own, I worry about passing this onto my kids, too. My husband is our only hope.

  12. Oh how I can relate. It breaks my heart every time I see Ben be scared, anxious, worried they'll laugh or that he won't do well, or well, just worry. He gets it from me. I know it. And I hate seeing him struggle with something I work every damn day to try and stifle. I wrote about it once; not sure if you were following back then. But oddly enough, it was the toughest one I ever posted. I felt like it has been my ultimate failure as a mom.
    Putting it out there made me feel like I was admitting my failure to the world.
    And I guess I'll let you know after I return from Disney on Sunday...last time we went Ben was afraid of everything...from It's a Small World to the characters to that EXACT dinosaur.

  13. It is so difficult to not pass some things down. Like my fear of spiders. I have tried SO HARD to not jump ten feet off the ground when I see one, especially when the kids are around, but it's inevitable.

    I know Fynn got my "sensitive" side. I was just talking to my mom about it today. If he does something wrong, that he knows he did wrong, he cries. And cries, and cries, and I cannot get a word in to talk to him about it. I was apparently the same way. What goes around comes around. And I'm also a worrier... the best of us are ;) My dad was.. (thanks Dad!)

    Sorry you missed the mouse!

  14. kristen, you may be anxious and neurotic, but you know what else you are? an absolutely beautiful writer.

    i'm incredibly neurotic as well as anxious, but most never catch on. in fact, i didn't fully realized it until my early 30's. some say such traits are born out of insecurity, and if that's the case, i inherited that from my dad. he was a bit of an insecure egomaniac if you know what i mean.

    when i'm with my kids, i portray the image of confidence. i never give in to my anxieties. so if i were to succeed in getting my guy to stay on a train, or to stick around in a museum that scared him, or successfully talk him into going down the water slide, would i be a hero while you'd be considered someone at fault?


    so, then, is the converse true? would you be the one in touch with reality and i be the one who was teaching my child how to mask things? would such masking lead to him becoming a persona instead of a person, and if that were to happen would it take an early midlife crisis for him to realize it? a midlife crisis that caused him to blow up a lucrative career and alienate those closest to him while he found God and figured it out?


    are you and i neurotic.


    last thing...i get so lost in twitter, so forgive me if we already follow each other, but if you're on there and i'm not following you, i hope you'll give me a shout out. i'm batting a thousand with your blog and want to make sure i continue to come by.

  15. My husband and I used to go charging off to parties with our daughter getting her all pumped up for Firetrucks! Or Clowns! Or Magicians! And guess what? Every single time the pictures of her at the party were of a bawling child flipping out. I have no idea what relative she got that from way back in the Old Country.

    I realized I just had to stop having a secret agenda for her childhood - that she had to like Tinkerbell, or go on rides at amusement parks. Turns out she had her own little plan for herself that was different than mine.

  16. I clean, and disinfect, and fold, and put away, and pick up all day, every day. I never really realized how much until at the time 2 year old (now 3) started started to clean, and fold, and put away, and pick up, too. I thought, OH MY GOODNESS!!! I've made him obsessive, just like me. Ugh!

    p.s. LOVE the book list. I'm going to get right on it. I'll pass you mine soon. Thanks!

  17. I remember quite clearly the time I realized I not only passed on physical similarities to my children, but also mental ones. My family has some mental illness hiding in the trees and the thought terrified me. Just yesterday I was dealing with a problem with my near 13 year old that I can see is a personality flaw I share with her. How am I supposed to give her advice when I haven't figured it out myself yet? Scary for sure.

  18. I know that kids take their cues from us and that means not only our moods and spirit, but also our worries and fears. Being fearful of your kid in water can indeed translate into a kid that is afraid of the pool, or even the bath, if we let it show. That said, kids are also their own little bundle of energy, sensitivity and emotion. While we have thrown each of our boys up in the air and spun them around and helped them to fly, they have not all responded fearlessly. I have learned that children come to us with their own predispositions--fears of heights and spiders, need for or organized house, or the ability to thrive in a messy house. It's a crapshoot, isn't it? We do the best with who we are and who our kids are. We try to find the best ways to approach each thing depending on our own moods and on the personalities of our different children. It's confusing, it's difficult, it's messy. Life is messy. Kids are messy.

    But there are too many things to wonder about and feel guilty you just have to plug along. Chug chug chug. However, I, like you, continue to ask the big questions. To pause and think about them and write about them and ask questions about them. I always seem to come to the conclusion that all I can do is my best. To be aware. To try my hardest to let my kids be themselves in the context of being my OWN true self.

    Phew. This motherhood gig is more than I can bear from time to time. But ofcourse...we wouldn't have it any other way. No Sir!

  19. Catching up on all your posts and you've got a terrific blog here. And if I weren't on a blog break I'd sure be your neighbor. Maybe when I get back in "town"...

    Lots of insightful comments here. Queen really hit it.

    I think this is nature and nurture at work plus two-year-oldness. He's soooo young and the mouse and his gang are scary and the sounds are overwhelming. My youngest (7 1/2 y.o. now) has some sensitivites and I've learned a few techniques to help him overcome but mostly I've learned to have patience. I've tried to see the world the way he does amd be ok with different reations. Different than most kids would react.

    You may remember my post where we went to ride beloved Thomas the Tank Engine and Zach wouldn't board???

    By the way, I think Disney is over-rated:)

  20. I am new to your blog so I hope you don't mind me jumping in... (and sorry for the long rambling...) I read this post and I thought, "We went through the same thing!" My youngest is 7 years old and he is always sensitive. Not just emotionally, but sensory-wise. We used to not be able to take him to places like Chuck-e-Cheese. (yes, I am grateful he never asks to go...) Loud places. Bright colors. Rough clothing (itchy) He seemed to get overloaded very soon. Once on the plane, I had to take off all of his clothes, including socks, with only underwear left, because he complained about wetness (he spilled some drink earlier) and then lint between his toes (I rubbed them and found none) I can go on and on. We went to Disneyland when he was 5. Because I was worried about him being overwhelmed, I started checking out Disney cartoons and books from the library to get him acquainted with the characters. I even ordered the free Disney World DVD to show him what to expect. He had a blast. The funny thing was: when we went back again a year ago, he refused to get on any ride this time. As he gets older, he becomes even more observant, therefore more pensive. But that's just his personality. I just want to let you know I really don't think it is because anything you did or didn't do. Kids have different personalities. And my Mr. Monk has a personality that has never appeared in either family. But he is also one of the most observant and thoughtful people I know. :-)


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