My six-year-old has been extra afraid lately. Last week, in broad daylight, as we were sitting in the family room together, he hurried and plopped next to me on the sofa. Something spooked him. “Mommy,” he whispered in my ear, “I’m scared to be over there.” And then he pointed to the wall about five feet away from where we were sitting.
I realize that what I just wrote might sound like a scene from the Sixth Sense. It’s not. There are no “dead people” or ghosts wandering around as far as I can tell. And the truth is, my son is extraordinarily, sometimes weirdly, happy. He even laughs in his sleep—from giggles to full belly laughs. The first time I heard him laugh in the middle of the night, I was sure he was awake. Nope. He was laughing, hysterically, in his sleep. I wish I knew what he dreams about.
But lately, when he is awake, it’s a different story.
On the day in question, he was pointing to the wall where his Kindle was plugged in. Because he always forgets to charge it, he often sits on the floor while it’s charging so he can continue to Minecraft away. When he sits there, however, he can see directly into the living room, and because the living room is often cast in shadows when the lights aren’t turned on, he worries that someone—or something—is lurking in the room next door. He also finds the laundry room scary. And the bathroom. And the foyer. And the stairs. Especially the stairs. And especially at night.
Luckily for him, he happens to have an older brother who will almost do anything for him. The other night when my six-year-old was too scared to practice piano by himself in the living room, his brother cheerfully encouraged him, even sat next to him on the piano bench so he could practice. Meanwhile his other brother—our oldest—can’t seem to help himself and teases him. Then there are tears and yelling and more tears.
Aside from feeling a little annoyed—after all, it’s usually the minute I’ve made myself comfy on the sofa that he needs me to walk him back upstairs to get something he forgot—I’m okay with his being afraid. I’ve even given up on trying to convince him that there’s nothing to be afraid of (my husband, on the other hand, continues to try to reason with him: a losing battle). But I empathize with my son. I remember what it was like to be afraid of every creaking floorboard, every squeaky door hinge.
Some might argue that perhaps I’m “baby-ing” him. As the youngest, he does get “babied” a lot. But the way I see it, these fears will pass, if not soon, then eventually. And in the grand scheme of things, being afraid of the dark or other unknown corners isn’t that bad. Would it be better for him to show a little courage and venture into the next room by himself? Would he then learn that there was nothing to be afraid of? Maybe.
But I allow him his space and extend him some patience. He is six, after all. Perhaps it’s because I know that there are more terrible things that will keep him up at night, and more sinister fears await—the fear of not knowing if you’ll make a team, of not studying hard enough, of not being good enough, of getting his heart broken, of not getting into the right college, and all the countless things that I see my students worry about. Those fears lie ahead, waiting. Around those unseen corners.
So in the meantime, I’ll just keep holding his hand.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.