Let's face it. Fears are a part of life. But what do you do when you can't seem to overcome that fear? Or even talk about it?
Our son is eleven now and he's had a fear of puffer balls since he was three. You know what I'm talking about - those wiggly, spiny balls that can range from the size of a quarter to one as big as a basketball. They even come in different shapes and styles. Yep, those. I swear, you can find them in nearly EVERY STORE.
We don't really know what it is about them that's so scary. I remember he couldn't care less about them until one day we were in a sporting goods store waiting in line to check out. There was a bin full of large ones the size of a basketball and a couple of kids were playing with them. Without warning, our son started screaming and crying and trying to do everything he could to scramble out of the basket.
And that was it.
It put a serious restriction on his life!
That was the way he reacted every time he saw one. Sometimes, it even included leaping from baskets and running across a store while screaming bloody murder. It was bad, folks.
We couldn't go in a Mardel Christian Bookstore for years because they had those little toy displays right inside the door. There was always a puffer ball in one of the bins, and he knew it, too.
This is a boy who refused to look down the toy aisle at the grocery store for years. And a big toy store like Toys R Us? It caused anxiety you wouldn't believe. When it came time to do Christmas or birthday shopping for his little sister, we'd have to go down a toy aisle and bring back ideas or suggestions for him to approve or dismiss because he wasn't about to step foot down one himself.
When our daughter got old enough to understand what was going on, she would keep an eye out for the puffer balls and either hide them from her big brother's sight before he came down an aisle or warn us to steer clear of one.
It is completely heartbreaking to know your child is so afraid of something. And equally as heartbreaking when a speech impairment prevents him from telling you why. Did he have a nightmare about them that caused the whole phobia? Is it the way they look or move or both? We may never know.
But over the last eight months, we've been able to witness a very slow-moving miracle. At first, our son started watching YouTube videos about puffer balls. He'd talk about puffer balls with long spines versus short spines. Then, at his cousin's birthday party, they had little puffer bears with short spines in one of the rooms. While he screamed and covered them, by the end of the day, he was tentatively holding them. He couldn't stop talking about them for weeks afterwards.
We made a point of talking about puffer balls with little spines and how cute they are. He finally saw a picture online of a caterpillar with little spines and expressed an interest in it, saying, "It's not scary. It's cute." I asked if he'd like us to order one and he said he did. The day it came in, he was so nervous, he touched it with a single finger. But before long, he was holding it and petting it.
He now has a collection of puffers with short spines ranging from that caterpillar to a frog and even a pig.
But the biggest breakthrough - the one that had me in tears the most - was when we went to Mardel and he spotted the giant puffer balls with long spines down one of the aisles. We asked him if he'd like to go see him. He said yes. It took us a full five minutes to get down that aisle but in the end, he held one of them in his hands.
Our son, who had fought this phobia for years, was finally facing it.
He still gets nervous when going down toy aisles and he'll jump if he stumbles upon a puffer ball when he wasn't expecting it, but I think ninety percent of that fear is gone. I didn't realize how freeing it was to go through a store without keeping constant vigil and worrying our poor little boy was going to face that which terrified him most: A giant puffer ball.