the son of all fears

My younger son had a panic attack last week. I wasn’t with him; he was on spring break with his dad and brother, exploring a cave outside Austin, Texas. I talked to him on the phone after the incident and he sounded fine, but I know how my little guy gets once he decides he’s scared of something.

“Mom, I figured out in the cave that I have claustrophobia,” he declared last night.

“Hey,” I tried to reassure him. “Anyone can feel uncomfortable in a dark cave. It doesn’t mean you have claustrophobia.”

“Do you have any phobias?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied, trying to keep it light.

“Do you have any fears?” he pressed.

Do I have fears? I know he meant of the dark (yes), heights (no), or spiders (sometimes) but my mind went elsewhere. This child collects fears. Through therapy, in his young life we’ve already had to address his fear of candles, knives (even the butter slathering variety) and holly berry bushes. (“What if I accidentally eat a berry?”) He grows anxious if a passenger stands too close to the ledge on the metro and admitted recently he is apprehensive of flying. If I have a fear, it’s his letting fear stand in the way of enjoying life.

I knelt down beside him.

“You know buddy, I do have fears. It’s totally normal to be frightened, especially of the unknown. I probably would have felt the same way you did in the cave, but we can’t live our lives being scared or we’d never try new things.”

He nodded and looked to the ground. I squeezed his shoulders and reminded him he hasn’t met a pillow fort he didn’t want to live in forever. Only time (and a pillow fort in my living room) will tell how deeply seeded his claustrophobia is. And in the meantime, I will try not to let fear of his fears morph into my own phobia.