When Savannah was about two years old she developed this obsession with gum. And I don't mean that she ate it. She counted it. And I don't mean that she counted it in a package. She counted it after being chewed and stuck underneath restaurant tables.
Every dining experience would begin the same way: Savannah craning her head underneath the table, her diapered bottom in the air, then coming back up to announce "There's FIVE pieces of gum under there!".
After several unsuccessful attempts to keep her from getting under the table and counting gum, and the ensuing meltdown, I realized that this little compulsion provided her with comfort. She liked the structure. The predictability that there would always be gum under the table. (We dine in style obviously.)
This was the first of many odd little quirks she came to possess, her anxiety insisting upon it.
Did this realization worry me? Honestly, no. Because I know it is in reaction to me.
I am not a Scheduler. I am not a Planner. I am not Organized. I am the friend who comes racing into your house, hair dripping wet, dragging my crying child with me and breathlessly apologizing for being a half hour late. Some would call me undependable. I prefer "free-spirited".
My daughter? Scheduler. She organizes. She plans. She cleans. She loves the smell and feel and texture of CLEAN. She loves the predictability and order of A PLAN. Disorganization bothers her. Lack of structure bothers her. She thrives on information.
In other words, she loves RULES.
It took some time, but eventually I figured out that all of her quirks had one thing in common: they were indications of broken rules.
Following her gum counting obsession was a healthy eating obsession. I can say with almost complete certainty that I am the only mother of a toddler who said after vomiting from the flu at three years old, "I haven't been eating enough broccoli".
The health obsession gave way to a safety obsession, which carries through to today. (Have you ever had a child demand you put on your seatbelt before you backed out of the driveway? It's a handy accompaniment to the insistent dinging and flashing seatbelt light that your car already possesses.)
Every warning must be read, every sign must be explained. The dangers of the new toy having small parts on which a 3 year old could choke must be deciphered. Every No Smoking, No Dogs, No Dumping, No Right Turn warning must be discussed and analyzed. Every unknown danger must be put to rest.
When this happened and there was talk of my license possibly being suspended, I can honestly tell you that in the last nine months we have not gone a single week without my fielding the question "Are they going to take your license away? But, how do you KNOW FOR SURE FOR SURE?".
Lately, Savannah's obsession with safety has also picked up a co-obsession: fear of stealing. As in, my stealing. ("Why are you opening that water? We haven't paid yet!" "Where is my fruit snack bag? HOW WILL WE PAY FOR IT?" And to the cashier at Target: "Did you get the cat food? It's underneath the cart".)
She will even refuse to finish her donut in the grocery store, so that she is able to show them her final bite. What if they charged us for a GLAZED when it had SPRINKLES?!
(Note to Self: NEVER DIVULGE THAT YOU ONCE SHOPLIFTED A JACKET FROM CONTEMPO CASUALS. Or was it Wet Seal?)
Chris and I both tend to get annoyed at the minor inconvenience Savannah's anxieties create. We sometimes get irritated when we have to explain for the 4,000th time that no, we're not doing anything wrong when we smuggle 99 cent M&M's in my purse to the movies to avoid the pleasure of a $24 concession stand experience.
But, the truth is, I find it endearing. I don't want my daughter to be nervous. I don't want her to be fearful. But, I also know that she comes from these genes and there's just no getting around that.
What intrigues me is the fact that she and I deal with our anxiety in completely opposing ways: I like to deny, she likes to learn. I like chaos to distract me, she prefers order to calm her.
As much as it tends to annoy me - her need for structure and rules - I know that there is no greater blessing as a parent than to know what works for your kid.
And so I'll continue to make Savannah's world feel a little safer one "Do Not Put Directly In Your Eyes" label at a time.
Now, you tell me. Do you have an anxious child?