My four-year-old son has trouble with transitions. In school and at home moving from one task or activity to another too abruptly causes anxiety, stress and the occasional tantrum. My wife and I try to combat this by preparing him in advance for a change in routine, or upcoming tasks that need to be handled.
“Don’t forget, after you finish breakfast, go to your room and pick out your clothes.”
“What are we doing after we get dressed? We’re going to ride the bus to school.”
“Who is picking you up today? Mommy.”
From one event to the next we try to maintain consistency. My son likes consistency. Life doesn’t. The bus is late and we need to get to the subway. It’s raining, which means no outside recess at school. A teacher is sick, so there’s a substitute, one he knows and likes, but still he pleads, “Why is he here?”
This morning he was especially slow to move from task to task. We started off early, but by the time we left to catch the bus I was silently praying for patience.
“Please try to walk faster.”
I look down and see he’s not bending his knees. He’s trying out that new robot-walk he’s been working on.
“Please come down the stairs normally.”
He smiles, takes a one-inch step. “This is how babies do it.”
We get to the class; somehow it’s still before the class is in full swing. I peel winter layers off him. He walks into the class and I help him find a friend and activity to start in on. He immediately remembers another of his routines that he needs, another habit that helps in his transition from home to school.
“I need to go to the window and wave goodbye to you.”
“Of course,” I say. First a hug and a kiss, then I’ll go out the door and he’ll head to the window. From the front steps I will see him. He usually stands there, waving, tears in his eyes. I usually climb down the stairs and turn to find him still waving, then move to the sidewalk and turn to see him still waving. I usually find him still waving every time I look and I smile and I wave and blow kisses.
Today I leave through the door and he’s in the window, smiling and waving. No tears. And as I’m still in the process of waving myself, he smiles and turns and heads away from the window. I climb down the stairs and turn and check the still empty window, the window I knew to be empty. I check and I stare and I wonder who it is that has trouble with transitions.