Monday, May 28, 2012

Moving on Up... A New Season to Grow

This long weekend has been a blessing for us, well-timed and much needed. 

Memorial Day comes to us as the school year is winding down, and I am noticing how aware Kiddo is of this reality. About a week or two ago, I began seeing what I privately call "baby tears"...it's that beginning of a fake cry which is meant to express the kind of surface--and easily fixable--upset and dissatisfaction with life's goings-on. At first I chalked it up to some regressive behavior, triggered by the presence of the six-month old we've been caring for on Mondays. To me, that made sense.

Fast forward a week or two and I'm slowly beginning to interpret these tears-- and the actual quickness to real tears, too-- not as side-effect of the baby's presence, but as an expression of the emotions he can't begin to know how to discuss. Preschool is ending, and a very loving, safe and happy time in his life--something so known and predictable--is coming to a close. Although we've been very careful not to talk "Kindergarten" to him or mention it too much in conversation with others, it's impossible to keep it out of his face. His peers are discussing it, especially those with older siblings who have seen this transition and have their own excitements and fears to voice at preschool. It's also pretty difficult to keep the rest of the world from starting that conversation with Kiddo when we're out and about. He now looks old enough to be in school and so we get a lot of questions about "Which school do you go to? Oh, so you'll be starting kindergarten next year-- a big kid!" This is well-meant, however, I'm tempted to have a tee shirt made with "Please don't ask me about Kindergarten"  on it for him... and then to have six more made, so we've got one for each day of the week, just in case.

Here's the thing, at this point, Kiddo doesn't want to be a 'big kid' all the time. He wants the love and safety and comfort and company of those  he loves and knows. He wants to be little and slightly dependent and to stay in the familiar for a bit longer. Some kids do happily outgrow preschool, but Kiddo's not there... yet. 

Who's to say when he's going to embrace the idea of kindergarten? Frankly, I'm not expecting it to happen before the school year starts. Knowing Kiddo, he'll slowly warm up to it and feel more and more comfortable with elementary school by going each day, experiencing the new routines, developing a trust relationship with his teacher and meeting the new children who will be his classmates. After all, how can he embrace what he doesn't know? Adults have the opportunities and knowledge of going into a new or unknown situation and coming out of it with a good experience. Our children, on the other hand, aren't capable of reflecting on big life changes in this more-objective way, and so here, temperament plays a big role. I could take the approach of 'talking it up', but frankly, it just seems a disrespectful dismissal of his own unknown fears and sadness at this huge change in his life.

What we're doing, instead, is to support him in healthy ways. We stay a little closer, do more things side-by-side instead of just sending him off to take care of his responsibilities. When he wants company while putting on his clothes, we don't put the clothes on for him, but will sit and talk with him if he's attending to the task. We've kept our weekend low-key, so that we can be around each other in pleasant ways. Yesterday we drove out to the Columbia Children's Arboretum. I was having one of my deep needs to be in trees without seeing loads of people (ah! nature!) and Kiddo had loads of space to run around, to walk under huge cedars and pines and gaze up at their massive trunks going higher than we could fathom. There were the concrete ruins of an old building which created a neat place to explore, to sit and snack and find wildflowers to press. The variety of trees was engaging to me, the quiet and peace of the park was what we all needed. We spied hummingbirds sipping at a brightly-flowered shrub and a slim necked, elegant brown mourning dove, which I've not seen in town before. What a quiet treat.

We are keeping him close. Nightmares are often a manifestation of those fears we cannot name. He's had so many lately, and so I know that deep within, something is stirring for him. Instead of asking Kiddo to rise to the occasion and 'be a big boy' , I've decided that it's better to do what we do with our little ones-- to hold out a hand, down at their level, for support, and to allow him to let go and run off when he needs to. Much like a toddler who needs an adult to sit on the floor, so they have a safe lap to return to, I'm trying to keep myself accessible to Kiddo for those times when he needs me, needs the reassurance of his place in the world of our family. A new insight creeps in, too-- the incessant 'whys' could also be a search for sameness, for confirmation that the reasons for things aren't changing although life itself is. Some things stay encouragingly consistent in our world, and he can take heart in those same, steady rituals and realities. Just as I take strength and cheer from the promise of the season's cycles and what I know to be consistent in the world, I realize that Kiddo needs more consistency now than ever. This means, too, that our meal and snacktimes are upheld, that our regular daily rituals are honored, that our lives stay respectful to his need for downtime, rest and socialization and that these are balanced thoughtfully. 

Our language, too, is steering clear of describing his more mature and well-thought-out actions and skill advancements as "big boy", instead giving gentle encouragement and feedback for the specific actions themselves. This morning Kiddo worked in a coloring book and his improvement is obvious, the color stayed specifically in the areas he'd intended. I remarked that he'd stayed close to the lines. "What does that mean?" he'd asked. "It means that you have more control of your crayon than you used to." 

So, the see-saw of growth and need continues on. I wonder what the summer will hold. As a nanny, I've seen some kids really withdraw from life outside the home right before kindergarten,  sobbing in their strollers that they "don't want to go to the park" while the rest of their siblings were clamoring to do just that. Those daily, usually-manageable situations which offer plenty of variables, such as the park, can seem huge when a child feels that they have no control of what will happen next. Being aware of this, I'm going to keep my eyes and heart open, and let Kiddo lead in the little ways that matter. 

Speaking of the little things, check out this Top Ten list. Thanks eternally to sis Amanda, who always sends me good links of things that remind me what's important and what I need to know.

3 comments:

Narelle said...

Love this post!

Going to Kindy is terrifying for kids. Adults miss that point. They are too busy trying to dismiss the child's fears by telling him he's a big boy.

Hazel M. Wheeler said...

Thanks Narelle!

I wonder how much of this parent bravado regarding K is due to our own fears and insecurities? (I'm thinking of the stereotypical mom who gets teared-up saying goodbye on the first day of Kindergarten?) I will say that there is a habit here of people giving their children way too much information too soon, esp. in regard to transitions like going to school or an upcoming baby. Some parents like to think they are preparing their children, however, they often give the child more fuel for anxiety. I think adults forget that kids live in a different sense of time than they do and all this information is just confusing, distracting them from where they really need to be, which is in the present. (Think about how many adults strive to do that now-- to be present?)

I also think adults confuse the ideas of when they (adults) need to know something and when a young child *needs* to know something. While adults can do a lot with information regarding upcoming transitions and events and do use it to more effectively prepare, many young children have no tools or capacity for this-- hence,the frustration, tantrums and sadness. If we put ourselves in their situation, their behavior suddenly becomes very understandable. Who wants to feel helpless.

Stepping off my soapbox now... thanks again, Narelle. Coming from you--with your line of work-- it means something to me.:)

Narelle said...

You've nailed it!