Ethan is shy and sometimes I wish that he wasn't. Or, really, it's just that I simply wish he wasn't so shy to the point where, in a large group of children, he opts to hide underneath something and watch from afar with one whispered beckon of "mommy?" to serve as a plea for me not to leave his side. I can deal with shy and I think it's sweet -- sweet the way he stops to observe nature, breathe in the details, minds the feelings of his playmates and takes in all of his surroundings. I can even deal with his warm-up period of spending fifteen minutes sprawled out, face down, on the floor each time we're anywhere other than home, be it his My Gym class he's been taking since he was eight weeks old or a friend's house he's been to countless times before. I can totally laugh off the way he shields his eyes with his fingers when a stranger stops to tell him hello in the grocery store. He is sweet and he is gentle and I love this about him. I love the way he is drawn to art and pretend play and kindness and books and leaves the running, tackling, yelling to the other children on the playground, opting to watch them instead from afar. I love the way he reaches for my hand when another child is yelling too loud or running too fast, or the way he is legitimately concerned and sympathetic when a teenage skateboarder falls and hurts themselves. He is rich in sweetness and kindness and I am the biggest sucker for it.
It's the fear that I, well, have come to fear on his behalf. The way he tells me every morning that what he really wants to do is "play with boys and girls" and when we get to wherever we're going, he is quick to hide from the other children who are busily playing with one another. At the park, I will lead him to a group of similarly aged children and help him with introductions. He will play quietly with them -- mostly independently -- while still gripping onto my hand with a strength impressive for someone so small. It's when they run off to explore something new, a new part of the playground or a bigger slide he has not yet gone on by himself, that he steps back. "Mommy?" he will whimper and sit firmly on the floor to make it clear he's not going with them. Once they are out of sight, he will look at me with a proud smile and declare, "Ethan play with boys and girls." It worries me because as a child I was also painfully shy and my parents love to tell stories of the places I once hid, the situations I escaped from, the playdates I never went on. They love to recount stories of strangers asking if I was able to talk yet when I was in grade school or other parents shamelessly asking if I had a learning disability based on my reactions to being spoken to. These stories are funny and my heart does the familiar pitter-patter of pride in seeing pieces of myself in my son, but my worry comes in the form of what happens when he's older?
I cannot tell you how many times over the span of my life that I simply didn't do something because I was afraid to. Places I didn't go because I was scared of the drive, even. I worry that he will miss out on all of the pieces of things that I had missed out on solely due to fear, due to succumbing to the what-if monsters that roam maliciously around his head. It was when Ethan was born that I tried to be conscious about not giving into being afraid, about not giving anymore time to regrets and it's too late nows. But I'm still learning.
Lately my biggest project has been to show him the fun in not being fearless, but being confident. In knowing his worth and how whatever he's thinking or feeling is real and beautiful and perfect, able to be shouted from the rooftops or shared with children on the playground. It is a difficult lesson to learn at nearly thirty and so it is even more difficult to learn at two and so, of course, as a parent I worry about how much he's understanding; worry about if this is something even possible to be taught and learned.
(Worrying about worry. It's sort of laughable.)