Friday, March 28, 2003

Pushy mom

I made my daughter cry today. Or rather, I allowed a situation to progress to a point where she could no longer hold back her tears.

We were on her fifth-grade field-trip, I as class-mom chaperone, to a science museum that has among its exhibits a "touch tunnel." My daughter gamely got into the 40-minute-wait line for the exhibit along with her classmates, but as discussion of what the tunnel was like went on during the wait, she began to be convinced that it was altogether too scary. She questioned a friend's mom who had been through it before, and heard about it being pitch dark, and having different steps and drops, and keeping your hand against a wall to keep from getting lost, and knew she couldn't possibly do it. She'd say "I don't want to go," and the friend's mom and I would try to talk her into it, and this went on until we got to the final curve near the entry, at which point she began to cry. I thought I could still talk her through -- but then her instructional aide, who hovered throughout the day in a most infuriating way, came up and assured her she didn't have to go, and that got the attention of the museum employees who assured her she didn't have to go, and at that point I just cut my losses and pulled her out of line. Considering I had already checked in my glasses in anticipation of tunnel entry and could barely see, that was a fairly scary feat in and of itself.

And really, it wasn't such a big deal for her to miss the tunnel. There were other exhibits. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about groping my way through the dark myself. Maybe I should have let her quit at the first sign of anxiety. I pride myself on picking battles, after all. I'd resolved to insist that she go to the IMAX movie, which also had her spooked. Maybe I should have been quicker to let the touch tunnel slide. I often try to persuade educators that her tears are no big deal and she shouldn't be babied on account of them; but I hate to see her cry, too.

... and then again, I hate to see her babied. Her friend's mom told me later that she thought my daughter would have persevered through her tears if the aide hadn't swooped over and given her permission to back out. I really would have liked her to fight through her fear. I really would have liked her to not be the only kid in the fifth grade to wimp out of the tunnel, and have her teacher and aide and all the folks I try so hard to persuade that she's tougher than she looks see her looking entirely un-tough. In recent weeks, I've had to force her to do a couple of important things that she was really afraid of and begged me to get her out of -- the All-City Band, for one, and the swimming lessons her class at school gets bused to -- and she found both to be much less terrifying and much more fun than she ever suspected. Ditto the IMAX theater; during the show she whispered to me several times, with smile bright enough to see even in a darkened room, "I'm not afraid!" Perhaps the one I most have to convince that she's tougher than she looks is the girl herself. The learning curve's pretty steep.

The thing that's most amazing to me about all of this is that my daughter has undeniably gone through scarier experiences in her life than most of her peers have even dreamed of. Compared to leaving an orphanage at age 4.5 and going off with strangers who don't speak your language, riding in vehicles you've never even seen like cars and trains and planes, going to a new country with new customs and fitting into an entirely new entity called a family -- compared to that, a touch tunnel is unbelievably tame stuff. Yet she did the former with aplomb, and the latter leaves her quaking. Perhaps she used up her entire supply of tolerance for the unpredictable before the age of 5, and will now forever cling to the safe and sure. She can surely cling to me. But if I can possibly manage it, she'll be crawling through the dark with me, too.

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