Young and Stressed
Stress… The magic word that has been around a lot lately and we constantly use when we can’t think of another excuse for why we forgot that deadline, our wedding anniversary or, in worst cases, to comb our hair before leaving the house.
Causes of stress can be multiple; some are completely valid, such as death of a loved one, marriage problems, financial strain, tension in the workplace, etc.; and some can be completely ridiculous, like: salespersons, automated customer service assistance, your own appearance, not eating enough or trying a new hairdresser (I read an actual article listing these as causes of stress among women). I don’t mean to minimize the causes of stress for everybody works differently and we may not feel challenged by the same situations or elements, considering that stress is basically the body’s way to react to a challenge. But I never had to think about stress before in my life. Now that I think about it, I went through a lot of stressful situations in my youth (not long ago, by the way): being the youngest and only girl among my siblings (my hair was the longest in the house thus the most pull-able), teenage years (every moment is stressful), juggling work responsibilities and college classes, a long-distance relationship, wedding planning, moving to a foreign country, not having family around, financial struggle, medical issues, pregnancy, my father’s sudden death, and the list could go on and on. Even though these could be considered as perfectly valid causes of stress, I never thought about them being stressful; I guess I just lived through the situations, did my best, cry a little (ok, a lot) and then moved on. If I ever showed any symptom of being stressed out, apparently nobody cared because that word was never used in my house.
Of course, as a mother, I am very concerned and involved in what happens with my 3-year old son, and I’ve noticed that for the past 2 or 3 months, he has had a few mouth ulcers. Now, when I’ve had these little bitches I turn into a completely different person: I can’t talk, I can’t eat, I can’t laugh, every facial movement hurts! But him; he never complained about pain, even though the little white life-sucker was right there feasting in his mouth. Until one day this week he complained. I checked and he had the nastiest blister in the inside of his lower lip. The problem was that he has bitten on it and the vile thing was taking revenge, all red and swollen.
I went to the pharmacy and bought some medicated ointment that is suppose to numb the area and make him feel better. The fact that you have to apply the liquid over the affected area is the hardest thing to explain to a 3-year old. “I will rub your boo-boo with this q-tip and it’s going to hurt, but then it’ll feel better. The pain will soon go away”…. Yeah, right… Good luck with that.
So, I did apply the ointment to the affected area and, after crying non-stop for 10 minutes (me; he only cried for 2 or 3), he was feeling better and was able to eat something.
Thank God we had a dentist appointment the next morning. The dentist took a look at it and immediately gave me a bottle of a different ointment that was suppose to help him heal (same application method though…). I asked the dentist why could be the reason for him getting these ulcers, and there it was the magic word. “These ulcers are a sign of stress and we all get them at some point”, she said. But he’s only 3, why could he be stressed about? I was surprised… I was expecting something more like: he probably had a fever recently, or must be something that he ate; I wasn’t expecting to hear the word stress in connection with my son.
We went home and couldn’t stop thinking about it. He always looks happy although he’s very emotional and passionate when he needs to express a sentiment, but which 3-year old isn’t? So, I started talking to him trying to get more information: is something wrong at daycare? are you happy here with mom and dad? do you miss your grandparents and would like to see them? I’ve got all normal responses there…
Later in the day, he was playing with some toys and I hear him grunt and all of a sudden a toy part flew to the other side of the room. When I asked what happened, he was still grunting, his fists tightly closed and teeth clenched. He was angry because the toy fell apart and he couldn’t put it together again. And that have actually happened before; he gets anxious and angry when he’s not able to fix or do something.
I’m still not sure this is the source of his stress and I do believe this is not at all abnormal behavior for a child his age who lacks emotional maturity. I’ll keep watching and I’ll keep asking. He could be shouting for help in his own way, like the Whos in the Dr. Seuss story; and just like Horton, I’ll just have to believe (even if I can’t see it) that stress can attack at any age and causes are diverse and truly important for the person enduring it, even if it’s a 3-year old. After all, “a person’s a person, no matter how small”.