Friday, November 18, 2011

The Apple of Anxiety Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree of Temperament

Before my daughter was born, one of my most fervent wishes for her was that her life would be easier than mine. Not because my life is particularly hard - in fact, I think my life is quite good by any measure - but because I manage to make my life so very hard on myself.

I was an anxious kid and that anxiety has trailed me all the way to adulthood. I worry - a lot. I replay conversations in my head, wondering if I sounded like an idiot. I read and re-read emails before (and often after) sending them to make sure that there is no possible way that what I've written could be misinterpreted. I also have a strong tendency toward perfectionism and a need for control that led me into an eating disorder - as well as a strong will and sense of determination that helped get me out of it.

My highs are high and my lows are low - and always have been. Even as a kid I remember being crushed by small disappointments and thrilled about equally small excitements. Over time, as I have come to terms with the person that I am, some of the edges of my personality have been ground down a bit, but I am still frequently restless, angry, and ecstatic - all in turns, and sometimes all in the same five minutes.

Some people report that parenthood helped them to mellow out by allowing them to let go of a whole host of worries and doubts and focus on the big picture. For me, having a kid just expanded the kind and number of things I can worry and wonder about.

Living life this way is both exhilarating and exhausting. And yet I am still surprised nearly every day by the ways that my daughter is similarly exhilarated - and exhausted. It is as if I thought somehow my skepticism about biological determinism could overcome the basic truth that whether you blame nature or nurture, the apple of anxiety (or intensity, or stubbornness, or indecision) frequently doesn't fall far from the temperamental trees that create and spend multiple hours each day interacting with it.

I watch my daughter throw herself into new challenges and then freak out when things don't go as planned. I see how her own restlessness and craving for new kinds of stimulation continually conflict with the fact that she finds change difficult. My little extrovert craves the company of other people, but eventually hits the wall of over-stimulation and needs to be alone - just like her mama.

My parents like to say I burn the candle at both ends, but really it feels more like being a tennis ball caught in an endless volley between mutually exclusive and interesting things and emotions. Apparently now it's my daughter's turn to do the bouncing.

I have mixed feelings about this since it's a key component of everything I was hoping she might be able to avoid. For months I searched for any sign of me in her: when she was born she looked so much like her father! But now that I do see myself in her, our similarities are almost more challenging to deal with than our differences. I find it hard to discipline her in certain situations, because I can so clearly remember what it felt like to be a kid trapped in a crisis that no one else understood. I cringe while telling her to "cool it" and "chill out," knowing how much I have always hated hearing those words myself.

I tell her that she is "fine" and "okay" even when I don't feel that way myself. Every day I find a new reason to question how can I help her to manage - or minimize - the very traits that I have never really sought to extinguish in myself even though they have brought me so much annoyance and torment, because they have also brought me an appreciation of the beauty and subtlety and hilarity of life.

I don't want my daughter to be a mini-me. I don't even want her to be a better version of me. I want her to be the best version of herself. (I'm pretty sure I'm stealing that from somewhere, although I'm not sure where....) But even at age two I can see how much of me she carries with her. And so maybe the most I can hope for is to help her appreciate the beauty in the bumps, the inevitability of accidents, and the thrills of the hills: intensity, anxiety and all.

No comments:

Post a Comment