I haven’t written about it much because there were so many other things going on, but this last year and a half has been a tough one for Nathan (i.e., REALLY hard on us!). When he was around 15 months old he developed what we can only assume was a super severe case of stranger anxiety. His glasses have always made him stand out, and previously when people smiled at him and commented on his glasses he would grin and coo at them. Suddenly, whenever anyone made eye contact with him he’d have a complete and utter melt-down. It had all the classic tantrum behaviors (he’d drop to the floor, scream bloody murder, and become totally irrational and impossible to deal with) except that it seemed based in terror and not in anger. (And OF COURSE it all started when I was pregnant and having terrible sciatic, which meant that I couldn’t pick him up to shield him from view or comfort him).
It was AWFUL to feel that powerless, and it was damned near impossible to get through any encounter with a person outside of our immediate family without major stress for everyone involved. Leaving the house was a nightmare, but even having people over to visit was difficult. It didn’t matter how many times he’d met someone or how comfortable with the person he was the last time he saw them – each time we saw someone he had to start at square one and warm up slowly all over again. Everyone commented on it, and the nurses at his doctor’s office still mention his behaviors at previous appointments (THANKS nurses, that continues to make me feel great! It’s not like this time period wasn’t difficult for me already. In fact, I DID I need people telling me that they’re judging me and my child. That was really helpful).
When it started and I went on Facebook to ask for support or suggestions, I had a friend who said that her child went through a very similar phase. When I asked for a light at the end of the tunnel, she said it seemed to get better when she turned 3. THREE! That was twice Nathan’s lifespan!
But lo and behold, right about the time he turned 3, things did start to slowly improve. It’s still a battle we fight, but he has days where he’s much improved. When we went to the doctor’s office recently, he got out of the stroller to come stand next to me and watch me talk to the receptionist and pay for the visit. Since he’s not requiring 100% of my attention, I’ve started being able to take both kids on outings by myself for the first time ever. He’ll now walk beside me at the store instead of having to sit in the cart and scream the whole time.
Today we went out to dinner as a family, and when the waiter (a large Samoan looking man) came right up close to Nathan and leaned over him to hear J’s order, I saw Nathan wave at him and point to himself (though with the music at the restaurant and the placing of the order and Emily’s shrieking for food, I couldn’t hear what he said). But he spoke directly to the waiter multiple times, and even after the waiter left Nathan would point him out and say something I still couldn’t hear.
When the waiter brought our food and asked if we needed anything else, Nathan said (loudly and clearly), “I want some ice cream, please!” When the waiter asked, “What was that?” Nathan very calmly responded, “Please, I want some ice cream”. There was no turning away and hiding, there was no screaming at the audacity of the waiter to make eye contact, there was simply a calm and polite request for a treat. It was the middle of dinner and not at all the time to ask for ice cream, but it unfroze a part of my heart that’s been living in such a state of constant anxiety and stress that every interaction evoked an adrenaline surge. I didn’t realize quite how bad it had been until it instantly felt that tiny bit better.
The bad news is that Emily is 18 months old, and has gone from being the worlds most sociable and friendly baby to responding to interactions with strangers by shaking her head no, looking down, and giving the world’s most epic pout (I didn’t even know it was POSSIBLE to stick a lip out that far!). I’m really hoping this will be a shorter phase for her than it was for Nathan (it does seem more like rebellion than fear) but at least this time I know what to look forward to (and thank heavens I should only have one child in a “freak out” phase at a time! I am thankful for that, at the very least!)