Saturday was a beautiful day. We packed up a picnic lunch and headed out as a family to the park to enjoy the beginning of spring. Both kids bounded out of the van, running as fast as their little legs would carry them for the park. It didn’t take long for the baby girl to notice the swings. “‘Wings! ‘wings!” she called out and bolted for the swings. I followed behind, watching Jacob’s reaction. His sister loves the swings, but for Jacob it is a different story.
I can’t say when the fear of swings started for Jacob. He certainly never liked them as a baby. I tried the baby swing that everyone insisted I needed to lull him to sleep. Nope. Wanted nothing to do with it. But not every baby dislikes swinging, so we didn’t give it much thought and stored it away in the attic. As a toddler we would set him on our laps as we swung on the swings, but usually it was short lived. He liked the slides. So maybe he was a slide guy, nothing wrong with that.
But at about age three, things got worse. It was after my husband and I had gone away for a much needed week away for an early anniversary vacation, that we noticed Jacob’s fear of swings had escalated. Suddenly it was no longer just a preference of slides, but a full on fear to where he couldn’t even be near swings. He would start screaming and you could hear the panic in his little voice. The much loved park behind our house became a nightmare for him and us. We couldn’t even go to the park anymore. But worse, Jacob couldn’t even stand the sight of the swings from our house. “Oh, no!” he would yell, from our dining room window while he stared at the kids at recess. It was like a train wreck to him. As much as it bothered him and brought him distress, he could not stop watching. He would cry and yell while at the window fearful for the kid’s safety on the swings. No matter how much I tried to stop him from looking, he still managed to wrangle the blinds to the side so he could see out.
It only got worse from there. It escalated from not only the swings in our school yard behind out house, to any swinging object. The wands on our mini blinds in our house brought him huge anxiety. It’s hard to even convey the panic that would take over my son when he saw them ever so slightly swaying. “Oh, No! Stop it! Stop it!” he would yell while either my husband or I would try to comfort him and the other tried to stop the swaying wand.
It went on like this for months. Thankfully it was mainly over the winter, so the playground behind our house saw little use. At school the occupational therapist worked with him forcing him to go on the swing in her room. And gradually he would go with little a fight, and notes would come home praising him for a job well done.
Slowly but surely we were able to go back to the park with the reassurance he wouldn’t have to go on the swings. At first he would comment, “Mommy, look how high those kids are swinging,” but eventually he moved past it and it was as if the swings weren’t even a part of the playground as none of us mentioned them. I know that swinging objects still bother him. In our garage my husband has hung a tennis ball for me since apparently I am parking challenged. It used to send Jacob into pure panic mode when our neighbor boy would make it swing. He learned quickly that it bothered Jacob and knew how to push his buttons by casually giving the tennis ball a little push. Jacob no longer panics, but calmly tells his friend to not do that because it bothers him. What that tells me is my son is able to control his impulses to be afraid even if it does bother him still.
Jacob’s come along way from that scared boy staring out the window yelling at the kids at recess. Two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to drive by that park let alone stop at it. But we were there and his sister was running for the swings. As Jacob sat on the swing next to his baby sister, I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He pushed himself along, definitely swinging, but not nearly as high as his baby sister. And I am fine with that. I am MORE than fine with that. I didn’t offer to push him, as the last thing we need is for him to go back to that fear. I let him go at his own pace. I didn’t comment or even acknowledge that he was swinging. Hopefully he has forgotten that paralyzing fear he had not so long ago.
But for my husband and I it is still fresh enough that a simple family outing to the park will never be taken for granted. It is truly a gift. And watching my son on the swings couldn’t make me happier.