Max says he’s ready for high school. “We’re forming a gang, Mum,” he tells me. “It’s gonna have all the boys from my class who are going to our high school in it. We might ask other boys on the first day too. There’s gonna be 20, maybe even 100 year 7 boys in it. We’ll go around in a pack.”
Yeah, he’s ready. Careful, Max, careful.
It’s taken Bart and I the better part of 12 years to grow this child from the anxiety-stricken kid who needed hours of encouragement each day just to make it into the classroom, into this new kid. This new kid leapt onto the bus for a 2-night excursion to Canberra without a backward glance. This kid stood in front of 500 people and did a sterling job co-hosting the school’s recent performing arts showcase. This kid proudly stepped in at the last minute to do a school tour for eight adults when the school captain was away. Who is this kid?
Of course, there are still issues. You don’t get to be a kid with anxiety and not feel daunted in the face of something huge like this. The trick for Max now is working out what is “normal-person anxiety” and what is “Max anxiety”. He was nervous about getting up in front of 500 people, but told me, “This is just normal-person anxiety, so I’m okay.” His “Max anxiety” still gets the better of him, almost on the daily, but he has the skills to manage it now. He copes so beautifully it makes me weep sometimes. I want to show him to mums whose little kids have anxiety and say, “Look what happens. Look where all that patience and hard work and tears gets them.”
I look at my boy, who is almost not a boy, ready to step into the next chapter of his life, and I wonder. I wonder if along the way I would like to have made different choices. I wonder if we’ve spent enough time teaching him to swim in the shallows before he is thrown in the deep. I wonder if he’ll be able to move mountains and if so, could he start with the one on top of my chest?
“I think I’m lucky to have anxiety,” Max told me. “I’ve learned all kinds of coping skills that other kids don’t even know about.” Lucky, yes.
Hopefully, all the kids starting high school next year don’t need to know about those coping skills. Hopefully they are coping just fine on their own. Unlike their mothers.
Do you remember your first day at high school?