Last year around this time, Lemon Cake was terrified of dogs or any animals. He had no interest in farm animals or petting small cute animals at fairs, and would run away when a cat approaches his way. Sometimes he would cry so sadly and desperately because a dog was running near him, or when he discovered a cat has snuck up behind him. It made me so sad to see him so scared. All I could do was reassure him that I was right there if he needed me, and that I could hold his hands or pick him up if he wanted me to. I would tell him the dogs are curious about him, that they are wagging their tails because they are happy. I was slightly worried but I also know it was completely normal for toddlers to have fears. There was not much else I could do anyways besides continually letting Lemon Cake experience and see animals under ordinary daily circumstances.
Last year around this time, I signed Lemon Cake up for his first swim class. Baby Banana was just a few months old then. The idea was for Daddykush and Lemon Cake to spend more bonding time together, and of course I want Lemon Cake to eventually learn how to swim. I thought it would be a huge hit since Lemon Cake loves playing in water- at the pond, the wading pools, and all the various parks with water features. Could I have been more wrong? He protested loudly every weekend he had swim class and sat on the edge of the pool every time the entire time absolutely refusing to go in the water. Daddykush reported that he was the only kid who refused to go in the water. I even tried bribing, but it didn’t work. Daddykush and I had multiple discussions over this. I kept saying to Daddykush, “JUST MAKE HIM!” To my “dismay”, Daddykush refused to force Lemon Cake in the water.
I was feeling quite discouraged that my son was afraid of “everything” and that we hadn’t found any “solutions” to these so-called problems. I did not sign him up for another swim class, and with the colder weather, we started to spend more time indoors and had even less exposure to any animals. Looking back, I am so grateful my husband did not listen to my foolish and impulsive words, and instead, followed Lemon Cake’s preferences and feelings. I am glad I did not push Lemon Cake to go beyond what he was comfortable with around animals.
Fast forward to this year.
One sunny weekend a few months ago, Lemon Cake found himself surrounded by our neighbor’s three pugs. He enthusiastically asked, “why does this dog only have one eye?” I didn’t even realize the “miracle” until my neighbor looked at me and mouthed to me across the porch, “He is not afraid anymore.” I was surprised and happy. Then I thought maybe it was just a fluke or maybe he was just so engrossed in the fact that the dog only had one eye. Over the next few weeks, he consistently showed more interest and less fear around dogs. After school one day, he asked and petted a lab that belonged to his classmate. In my heart, I was going nuts with excitement that he had outgrown this irrational fear of dogs. I looked at him with pride and said to him, “Look, the dog likes it when you pet him. Maybe you can find out his name?” “Look he is wagging his tail!” The “real test” came when we were invited to a birthday party in the neighborhood last week. The party had a small animal petting area set up with bunnies, chicks, ducklings, goats, piglets, kittens, and also a pony ride. I didn’t have any expectations. I thought he would at least enjoy watching the animals. He refused the pony ride but he held and petted every animal, fed the bunnies and goats, and even let a duckling gently pecked him on his hands (he thought it was kissing him and was so tickled by the idea). Besides pizza and cupcake time, he spent all his time in the animal pens and watching people go on pony rides. I was hoping to ride on the pony to demonstrate, but unfortunately I exceeded the weight limit haha.
I decided to sign him up for swim class again this spring and just let it be. I don’t want to give up on it. Swim is basic survival skills and I have decided that he has to be comfortable in water. We talked about going to the swim class a few days before it started. He was excited to wear his new red and blue submarine swim suit. He also remembered being fearful of the swim class. He even said to me in the car ride on the way to swim class, “I was scared when I was two, but now I am three!” The moment we entered the swimming pool area, he clung to me and froze on the spot. I can instantly see why he is so afraid; the unfamiliar environment and the very loud and strange acoustic affect overwhelmed him completely. He told me he didn’t want to go and was about to start being hysterical. I repeatedly and calmly told him that I would pick him up and carry him, that he doesn’t have to go in the water if he doesn’t want to, and he can just watch. As we watched another class finish up, I thought to myself, here we go again, we will just sit on the edge for the next seven classes. When our class started, everyone went in. Lemon Cake refused but I could see hesitation and he just needed some firm encouragement. I told him I would go in the water anyways and he could sit on the edge and watch me swim, and he could choose how to get into the water. Long story short, after three classes, Lemon Cake is still nervous in the water and often says no when the swim instructor ask him to do something (part of it is personality- he has to do things on his own accord- I almost had to ask the swim instructor to just leave us alone and pretend we were not there). However, he has come so far from just sitting on the edge and has made huge strides at every class. Yesterday and today, he kept asking to go to swim class because he wanted to blow bubbles in the water, insisting that today is Saturday not Wednesday.
I have read enough about parenting and education to know that it is entirely normal for children to be fearful of certain things, and different children will have different fears and handle them differently. However, it is hard to see straight when you are in the thick of it. Lemon Cake has taught me a very valuable lesson. I can always look back on this and tell myself to relax, to let it be and just continue to be the anchor for my children in times of fears and challenges.
Oh and I forgot to mention Lemon Cake has also outgrown his fear of riding buses and trains, and the very loud flushing noise in public bathrooms!