Just a few days ago, TJ developed a new fear – the common house fly. Now, I admit that I don’t particularly like flies. I don’t really like when they land on my or hover around my food, but I don’t freak out or anything. TJ does.
It all started when we were at the McDonald’s Play Place with two grandmas, a great-grandma, and a 3-year-old friend named Abby. A fly was buzzing around the table, and TJ started to fuss. But then it landed on his cheek… and TJ had a complete meltdown. All of his muscles tensed and he was shaking. I tried to console him by stroking his hair and letting him lean over to hug me. It wasn’t enough. I had to take him out of the high chair and let him cling to me for quite some time before he settled down. He kept his hand covering his face.
He also wouldn’t go back in the high chair, apparently terrified that the fly would come back and attack him. He ate the rest of his chicken on the run. I dislike when kids run around with their food in the Play Place, but he stationed himself at the window to make himself a Drive Thru greeter, so at least he wasn’t climbing on the germ-infested play equipment while he ate.
But it got worse.
Later that night, TJ spotted a fly that was buzzing around our living room, just before dinnertime. He got so upset, tense and shaking, and clung to me as if his life depended on it. He kept one splayed hand covering his face as he burrowed into my chest. This lasted for at least 15 minutes. Every time I tried to ease him away from me, he just clawed at me and held me tighter. He was actually hurting me when he grabbed at my shirt and got handfuls of skin from my sides, where there is little fat to act as a cushion.
I had to hold TJ at arm’s length while Tom peeled him off me and strapped him into his highchair for dinner. He wouldn’t eat. He kept crying, “Mommy, ‘ommy, ‘ommy!” So I had to take him out of his chair and hold him. Again, he tried to hold on so tightly that it hurt. Tom ate as quickly as he could, then pried TJ off of me so he could play the role of comforter while I ate.
When I was finished eating, we decided to get TJ out of the house. We went to Target and bought, among other things, a flyswatter. We stayed out over an hour, so we’d be getting TJ home just in time to go to bed. It was on the way home that we realized he still hadn’t eaten any dinner. We stopped at the Drive Thru to get him some chicken nuggets. He was finally back to normal, yelling, “Chicken! ‘icken! ‘icken!” Of course, the chicken was very hot when we got it, so I tried to cool it off before giving it to him. He was very happy to start chowing down on his chicken.
Of course, once we got him back home and into his high chair to finish his chicken, the fly reappeared. Once again stricken with terror, he got freed from his seat and burrowed against my chest. He managed a sad, “‘Icken?” Tom handed him a piece of chicken, which he ate with his face in my chest and his other hand over his face. I hated the fact that he was so upset… he hearing him chewing the chicken in that position was absolutely hilarious.
I called the pediatrician today. The nurse who called me back had consulted two different doctors before returning my phone call. She started out the conversation with, “I wish I had better news…” But I knew what she was going to say before she called me back. There’s nothing we can do but comfort him when he gets upset, and wait for him to outgrow it.
It’s not necessarily normal for him to have this intense fear, but it’s not unusual, either. Kids his age can have these phobias – of bugs, spiders, and other creepy crawly things. But the fear will pass, in time, and likely shift to something else. Hopefully it will be something less prevalent than house flies next time.
Update (June 28, 2012): TJ is still afraid of flies, but he’s in good company. This remains one of the most popular posts I have ever written, as parents are searching for information on this topic every day.