My daughter went to her first day of her first basketball camp today at the University of Louisville. She is 8 and about a year ago she was diagnosed with anxiety.
There is nothing about parenting that is easy. And then there are things about parenting that are especially hard. Watching your child struggle with anxiety is my current dose of “especially hard”.
My daughter is smart, kind, loving, and so many other things that you dream about after you hear the first heartbeat. But she is also anxious. She wakes up with plaguing tummy aches that she desperately wants me to explain and understand. I regularly look back in the rear-view mirror and see her taking deep breaths and whispering words of affirmation to herself. A new school year, a new schedule, a new routine can all send unseen ripples into her world. Simple words thrown around on the playground land on her like little lancets; she struggles to understand why she was laughed at on the gaga ball court. A family trip to Disney can stir up waves of unexplainable emotions. She is 8. Her innocent brain seldom slows down enough for her to enjoy just being a little girl in a little town in Kentucky.
My daughter adores the University of Louisville women’s basketball players. Today was the first day of the summer day camp and my daughter was registered to go. Knowing this was going to be intimidating for her, I gave her several chances in the weeks leading up to camp to back out. “You don’t have any friends going to camp with you, are you still sure that you want to go?” “Yes.” “Sam and Asia graduated and won’t be there to coach, are you sure that you still want to go?” “Yes.” No matter the question; always a solid “yes”.
She wanted to go, to be there in the mix with the UofL basketball stars but as soon as we pulled onto the UofL campus, her body started into panic mode. She wrapped her arms around her middle and started counting down each passing minute on her watch as we tried to find the parking garage. She asked me to turn the radio off and then frantically repeated herself while I fumbled with the knob. Her breathing quickened.
See, this is the hardest to explain to people about her anxiety. She is regularly stuck in a state of uncontrollable angst while desperately longing to participate in her life. She wants to be on stage for her school play. She wants to sing the solo and play the piano at her recital. She wants to go to basketball camp where she will meet some of her favorite female athletes. She longs to engage but her body is often frozen in a regular state of stress.
Being a mom to an anxious child is hard. I’ve learned to anticipate the ripples. I knew today would be hard. There were over 200 campers. . . a new environment . . . and a lot of new, important adults.
We walked in holding hands and her pace slowed as we reached the gym lobby until finally, she stopped and tucked herself into a wall hidden from the other campers. She looked at me with tears running down her face. Frozen in panic, she said “mom, I don’t feel safe here.”
“I know, baby,” I thought, “I know you don’t feel safe but no one else does either so what do you want me to do?.”
I did the only thing that I could think of that wouldn’t cause her more harm. I walked away from her and over to the registration table, gave them her name and asked if someone could come talk to her with me. There is no way they could have known my fear as I asked that they pull someone away from their task of managing over 200 girls to help with my child. They couldn’t’ve known the roller coaster of shame and indignation and justification as I walked across the gym floor to ask for special treatment for my daughter “who just has a little anxiety”. I was terrified that they would inwardly roll their eyes. Was I being selfish for even asking? Should we just go home? I was so worried that they would just try to shame her or be irritated by the interruption but none of that happened. Instead, I left the gym with eyes full of tears of gratitude because today became a story about a group of adults that took the time to make sure that they met the needs of a little girl.
This is a basketball camp for a top ACC team and they didn’t have to care. They didn’t have to stop what they were doing or send a camp coach over to check on my daughter. They didn’t have to stay with her until she calmed down enough to walk onto the court. They didn’t have to make a game out of taking three steps onto the court and then jumping back. Or have a contest between three UofL WBB employees to see who could make those three steps on and off the court the fastest. They didn’t have to do it discreetly enough for her to feel safe. But they did. They all did it together.
It wasn’t just a player, a camp counselor, or an assistant coach. It was also the head coach. At one point, while he was with my daughter, one of the camp counselors ran over to Coach Walz to let him know that it was time for Coach to start the next section of camp. He looked up without hesitation and told the counselor that they should move on without him and he went back to my daughter. She was important to him and he wanted her to know it. He asked her who her teacher was in school. He asked if she had siblings and her favorite subject. He wanted to know her favorite player so that he could bring her over for an introduction. He then paused and asked another coach to run to the restroom to check on another little girl that had run away in tears.
They were all there for my daughter and every other camper. They all cared.
It was important to every person in charge of that gym that my eight year old little girl felt welcome on their court. I believe that philosophies like what I saw today start from the top. I am so grateful for a program that supports a little girl with big dreams despite her anxiety. Thanks, Coach Walz and the UofL WBB program for helping my little girl feel safe.