A mouthful of Pepto Bismol kept the nerves in my belly at bay when I was a kid. The first two weeks of school or the morning of a big test or report, my mom would give me some of the pink goo that “coats, soothes and relieves.” At least I told myself Pepto Bismol could get me through anything. It was probably just a placebo my mom used to get me on the bus.
Any social situation was paralyzing to me. Walking into a classroom, sitting on the bus, explaining a math problem in front of the class, boys, girls, humans, animals, the wind – you name it, it brought some level of anxiety.
As a kid I delivered this weekly newspaper called The Reminder that listed the high school dean’s list, holiday bazaars and tag sale classifieds. For thirteen bucks a month, I’d stuff the tabloid with inserts, slide it into a plastic bag and then into my carrier (made out of the same material as a straight-jacket) and walk what felt like miles, hanging each paper on mailbox hooks. If I saw a person coming out of a house to grab the paper I would stiffen and cringe at the thought of making conversation.
But it suddenly clicked that if I chatted up the little old lady in the ranch, hand deliver her paper and offer to shovel her walkway it turned into a ten dollar bonus at Christmas.
Of course some credit to my social functioning has to be given to my parents, who repeatedly pushed me into social situations, like the time this kid Scott taunted me on the back of the bus.
“Martian Chronicles, coming to a toilet near you!” Scott would shout out the bus window as I walked past and then chanted throughout the ride home until I exited the bus. Scott got a kick out of mispronouncing my lastname and the crowded bus agreed with the humor of it all.
“I can talk to the kid, but you have to learn to fight your own battles Brenda,” my father suggested. Frankly the thought of my dad walking down the narrow aisle to the back of the bus and reprimanding this kid did seem cringe worthy. So I walked down the aisle, while the bus jerked to a start and stop at each drop off.
“Quit calling me names,” I demanded, making a fist and punching Scott in the upper arm. The bus suddenly lurched forward and I fell back in the seat across from Scott, my knee high legs flying up to show my panties and Scott’s friends shoving me back up laughing to see if I’d throw another punch.
Scott never picked on me again. Maybe unbeknownst to me my father called Scott’s dad or the wimpy, hippie bus driver threatened to kick Scott off the bus permanently. But I’d like to think I garnered some respect from the kid because I had the nerve to stand up for myself.
When my son was born, I vowed to myself that he wouldn’t be afraid of social situations like I was when I was a kid. I wanted him to be comfortable in his own skin, confident, friendly, and at ease over new situations.
At three months old I carried Shawn in his car seat into the Kindcare or as my husband called it the Kid Carrel. Every day I left the day care with a lump in my throat, my brain and heart battling it out over the decision to continue working and leaving Shawn with strangers to care for him.
Shawn grew and as he reached toddler age we changed day cares, a preschool which sounded more educational than institutional. At least that’s what I told myself. The good-byes became more gripping. Shawn would cry and cling to me until a few weeks went by and he had become accustomed to the new routine.
Picking up Shawn was always a wonderful reunion: a big hug, and I nuzzling him, trying to find his scent that had been overpowered by the daycare smell of staleness, a strange woman’s perfume and applesauce. I’d whisk him home to bathe back his scent and hug him so my own smell and markings were back on him.
Now, nearly nine-years-old Shawn is attending a month long camp. My husband and I dropped him off today. Shawn was excited, helpful in setting up his bed and belongings in a little cubby. He was particular on what photos to tape above his bed and how he wanted his blanket placed. He shook his counselors’ hands and joined a Frisbee toss with ease. If I were him, I would have worried about not catching the disc or throwing it haywire and accidentally dinging someone on the head. Not Shawn. He hugged us good-bye gave us a wave and without any tears ran off to his new adventure.
I sit in my family room uneasy and yet relieved. My wish has come true. My son is confident, makes friends with ease, wants to try new things and does all of this not feeling anxious.
Meanwhile, I am pacing around the house, tidying up, throwing in a load of laundry, reorganizing the refrigerator and watering plants. All this activity is keeping me from wondering what on earth Shawn is doing at this very moment. Did he have enough to eat at dinner? Is he laughing? How did the swim test go and what color tag is he? Did he pick some good afternoon activities? Does he know all the names of his cabin mates like I made a point of memorizing: Matt, Alex, Warner, Willie, Finn, Conor, Saul?
I think I’ll run down to the CVS for some Pepto Bismol!