Me: (reading before bed, door opens)
Me: What is it, buddy?
Hank: I am too stressed to sleep.
Me: Climb up into this big bed and lets talk about that.
Hank: (leaps and bounds onto his pai’s (dad’s) side of the bed)
Me: (gaze fixed on the ceiling, book tented on my chest) You were very stressed this evening. Can you tell me why?
Hank: I don’t know.
Me: Can I give you my theory?
Me: Are you interested in my ideas or would you rather I listen? I am here for you however you need.
Hank: I don’t know what is wrong with me, mom, so please tell me.
Me: (deep cleansing breath) There is nothing wrong with you. You are stressed by the stress of stress.
Hank: (nervous laughing)
Me: (dead serious) It’s true. I know you.
Hank: You know me better than anyone.
Me: And I am blessed to know you so well. What I am about to say I don’t want you to allow to hurt your feelings. I want you to listen and know I am speaking from love and as kindly as I can.
Me: You live you best life when you’re prepared.
Me: You live at your maximum capacity of happiness when you have your school bag packed, when you have your gym bag packed, when your clothes are picked out the night before school, your alarm set and you wake up an hour and a half earlier than you peers so you have plenty of time to get dressed, eat breakfast, relax and get to school early enough to fill up your lunch debit, say hello to friends and be at your desk before anyone else arranging your pencil case and your notebooks for the day. You make your bed every morning, in the dark as to not wake up you sister, ensuring you can flop on it comfortably the minute you return home after a long day. You thrive when you have a plan, regardless if that plan is 3 hour driving tour of the Aldeias de Minho (small towns of the region) or staying in your pajamas all day. Do you agree?
Hank: I agree. 100%.
Me: Homework is never an issue for you. You know exactly what you have to do and you come home and do it that way you can spend the evening relaxing, plus you know if you don’t do your best you know there is time for correction, but when it comes to studying for exams you buckle.
Me: The closer you get to an exam the more you spiral into a panic and the less you study or let us help you.
Me: Today, we set a time to study for your upcoming exam thinking that would help you prepare. At 5:30 you were going to work with your pai (dad) to review your math unit and prep for Wednesday, just like you had done last Thursday and last Friday, but the closer and closer it got to 5:30 the more and more you let stress and fear eat away at you until you were so upset you sabotaged the whole evening.
Hank: I know, I’m sorry, what is my punishment?
Me: Oh, I don’t have to punish you! You’ve already punished yourself. Notice how your pai (dad) and I backed off and gave you space. We reassured you we were right here, ready to help and support you, but you went into the dark place and let fear and stress and your lying brain gain control. We have talked about this; there is no reason for us to punish you any more than you are already punishing yourself, but what I would appreciate is more trust.
Hank: (questioning eyebrows)
Me: You have a problem trusting me and trusting your pai (dad).
Hank: (highly questioning eyebrows)
Me: You always have.
Hank: (extremely questioning eyebrows)
Me: You don’t trust me to know when it is safe to cross the street even when there are no cars.
Me: (interrupting) And we say that is because you are a rule follower and obey the pedestrian lights or the traffic laws, but really it is because you don’t trust me.
Me: You set a second alarm on my phone the day before returning to school after holiday break.
Hank: I was…
Me: (interrupting) You were nervous and didn’t fully trust me to get up at YOUR appropriate time to see you out the door to school.
Me: When we have to catch a train you insist we arrive at the station as early as you can get away with, regardless of our justifications for not needing to arrive at the station until 5-10 minutes of the train’s departure.
Hank: I just…
Me: You just can’t deal with the stress of what might happen?
Hank: (sigh of relief) Yes!
Me: I understand, I love you, I know you and I support you, but my heart breaks now that you are adding exams to your list of insurmountable stress, because this is only the beginning for your academic career and you have everything in your power to punch fear in the face and prepare for your exams!
Hank: (back to the questioning eyebrows)
Me: You THRIVE on preparedness! You simply have to tell your lying, anxious brain to SHUT UP and make the choice to have everything ready to succeed, just like you choose to wake up early, prepare your bags the night before, pick out your outfit, remind me to buy Nesquik when we’re running low and give yourself a level of calm preparedness in the morning so you leave the house ready for the day and not rushed. The way you are fighting preparing for exams sabotages your chances to feel calm and you thrive when you’re groomed and polished and packed and ready to go. Accepting help, working smarter and not harder, trusting us will best prepare you for your exams. I mean, you could teach a class on preparedness! Who in this house packs the day before a trip?
Me: And which people in this house, who have the ability to pack, pack the day we’re leaving?
Hank: You and papa.
Me: And who is the calm rational one when we’re running about waiting until the last minute to gather everything we need?
Me: You are. It is my great hope that you decide to apply your preparedness skills to studying for exams therefore eliminating this evil stress that consumes you until you surrender unprepared and living in panic until the test is over.
Me: I know how you feel. I know what it feels like to be crippled with test anxiety and I want more for you, but I can’t help you with this more than to say I hear you, I understand and your pai (dad) and I are here to help. You have to decide to accept our help, because at this point if you want to improve you need to decide to let us assist you. You are the best at doing homework and organizing for group projects, but studying for exams is new and you are still learning your best way of doing that. Continue everything you are doing in regard to homework, but for exams, it is my hope you decide to accept help, because today you didn’t make that decision and instead punished yourself WHEN I KNOW, because I know you, that if you had punched your lying brain in the face and worked for an hour, just a single hour, with your pai (dad) you would be sleeping soundly right now and not being tortured by this stress.
Hank: It is my decision?
Me: Yes, truly. I would not lie to you. You have the power to give yourself what you need to feel better. Whatever you decide your pai (dad) and I will love you no matter what. This isn’t about grades, do not mistake our concern, this is about you and living your best life and managing your stress levels so that when there is a crisis in life you will rise to the challenge and not be defeated by it. You know all these conversations we have been having about becoming more resilient?
Me: This is also a big part of that conversation. You cannot be resilient without reaching out and accepting help, you can’t be fully resilient all on your own, resiliency is also about being brave enough to grow and evolve, and you most certainly cannot be resilient when you are allowing the panic and fear that stress causes to sabotage improving your chances at success.
Me: I can honestly say that if someone had this conversation with me when I was ten my life would have been very different. I didn’t learn this lesson until… um, well to be honest, YOU are teaching me this lesson and I thank you for that.
Hank: Mom, how can I be teaching you when I am doing everything wrong and ruining everything?
Me: Good question, but you’re not doing everything wrong or ruining anything you can’t fix, be kind to yourself! Listen, You’re suffering with school stress much the same way I did, and because I am compassionately listening and identify with you. By listening and helping you I am also helping myself in the process. I can’t tell you to do something I am not willing to also try therefore you’re teaching me to do better, too! I never confronted these feelings you’re having, I was never that brave, I merely survived them and in merely surviving I spent my whole life feeling stupid, and behind and incapable. I don’t want that for you because you are none of those things, so no, I am not going to punish you, I am not going to scream, I am not focused on grades or performance, I am focused on you, my favorite boy, who can’t sleep because he is so stressed out and I am going to say to you that I hear you, I understand and I am here to help, your pai (dad) is here to help, but you have to decide to let us.
Hank: (slowly scooting off my bed)
Hank: (standing to leave)
Hank: (walking out the door)
Hank: (pauses for a moment with his back to me so I cannot see his face) Thank you for the talk, mama, it was very motivational.
Me: Are you being sincere or sarcastic? I can’t tell.
Hank: I mean it. It was very motivational. Good night.
Me: Good night, Hank.
Epilogue: I am grateful to report Hank has made the decision to accept help and is punching fear and stress in the face everyday thus far leading up to his exam. His stress and anxiety is greatly reduced and we are grateful to be of help to him.)