The Gym Incident: Am I an Anxious Monkey Mommy?

Self on 03.19.12
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Photo: jinterwas / Creative Commons

After a weekend of treating my body like a junk food containment unit, I was relieved to get back my healthy gym-going routine. Alex was happy to go to the gym daycare, which gives me a feeling of baffled liberation. It means my 20-month-old is happy to be somewhere other than the presence of her mother's watchful eye.

That's super awesome for both of us, but leaves me wondering, "Aren't you going to miss me even a little bit?" But no matter. She gets to play with new toys and other humans, which is definitely a good thing.

I still worry, though. What if she's not having fun? What if she does miss me? After my workout and before descending to the locker room to shower, I stopped by the daycare to spy on her. I saw big boys being big boys, rambunctiously playing with a basketball. I saw the top of my little girl's head go by as she ran past the door and into the depths of the playroom.

I paused. Was she having fun? Was it all Lord of the Flies in there? She seemed happy, so I continued on to the locker room.

She Didn't Want to Leave! (Hooray!)

When I came back, I spotted her sitting on the floor with a plastic yellow box of crayons. She was picking each crayon up out of the box and examining it before setting it down in a pile on the floor. Then she reversed the action and put them back in the box. I called to her, and she looked up at me, smiling, happy to see her momma, but she made no move to get up and come to me.

The caregiver, the one I call Alex's "Favorite Lady", came over to tell me all about Alex's time there today: how she read some books, then ran over to the Favorite Lady for kisses and hugs. She ran around, and then came back for more kisses and hugs. She was very busy and very affectionate.

Favorite Lady went over to Alex to prod her towards me. Alex would rather stay and play with her crayons. I had nowhere to be, so Favorite Lady went to take care of some other kids while I stood at the hip-high wall surrounding the playroom and watched Alex play.

A Catalog of Ways This Could End Badly

A bigger toddler-boy came over and closed the box Alex was playing with, then continued to climb around Alex, asserting his presence. Alex looked...confused? Annoyed? It was a mild, almost non-reaction, just a feeling passing across her face. I thought, "This is good 'big brother' experience," while my mind simultaneously ran through a catalog of ways this could go badly. Fingers pinched in the box, he could stumble and fall on her, step on her...

My thoughts were interrupted by a cute little girl about Alex's same age who walked up to the divider, looked me in the face and said, "Hi!" I said hi back and asked her if she was having fun. She wandered off, and my attention turned back to the boy, who was climbing a set of cubbies holding art supplies next to Alex.

It Ended Badly, but Not at All How I Imagined

Before I could invent any more potential accidents, the little girl appeared next to Alex, gripping a chair that looked this:

She carried it into and over Alex, the chair legs making contact with my little bambina. I imagined Alex could get seriously injured by those metal chair legs or those sharp, circular disks at the chair's feet. I felt impotent, standing there at the divider, unable to help my baby. Without express permission from my brain, my mouth started saying things like, "Nonononono, careful! Careful! Ooh, ooh! Careful!" All the while, the chair legs were bonking and knocking Alex.

Alex was watching my face in all of this, her expression beginning to mirror my panic. Mind you, the chair was wielded with the force mustered by a 20-month-old girl. So this chair beating might have been more like gentle bumping. I don't know. But I wasn't trying to analyze that so much as that I didn't want a chair dropped on my daughter.

You Scared Her

Alex's face turned red and she burst into hysterics. Her Favorite Lady leapt over to her like a super hero, removed the chair from the little girl's hands, and scooped Alex up off the floor. As she carried her over to me, Favorite Lady said, "You scared her."

Hmm. I apologized, "Mommy's a little high strung." As I comforted Alex, I recalled a study done on rhesus monkeys. There's a correlation between anxious mother monkeys and their being overprotective. From the book The Neurobiology of Parental Behavior:

Highly protective mothers have lower thresholds than do less restrictive mothers for perceiving a particular environmental situation as threatening. In other words, they are more fearful or timid. Because they perceive greater threat in their infant's environment, they tend to maintain greater contact with the infant, restraining its movement. This behavior, in turn, may teach the infant to be more fearful of its environment, particularly in novel and unpredictable situations, and this increased fearfulness will then similarly influence the adult maternal behavior of the infant.

Sweet. So the upshot of this study is that anxious mommies make anxious kids. Well, anxious monkey-kids. Part of me wants to go ahead and label myself an anxious mommy monkey and apply the study wholesale to myself: I conclude that I'm even screwing up my grandkids with all this anxiety. Way to go!

Wait a Minute. Really?

On the other hand, did I overreact? What is a normal reaction to seeing your child about to get injured? Having a chair knocked into you isn't a picnic. I will even use the word anxious, as in I was "anxious" that she was going to get hurt. And maybe she did get hurt. My initial perception was that Alex cried because she got hit by the chair, not because I was trying to prevent her from getting hit by the chair. It was being told that I scared her that made me question my reaction.

It's funny (and I don't mean funny-ha-ha) how when we most want to protect our kids, we possibly do the most harm. All I can do is keep on doing my best. Deep breaths, fellow parents. Deep breaths.

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