window.jpgMy 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.

19 thoughts on “Transitions

  1. This is equal parts heart melting and hilarious. “Please come down the stairs normally” = mucho LOLs.
    I especially like how you changed “Dan” to “my four year old” to save my feelings.

  2. ah, my heart breaks. My 2 1/2 year old was just diagnosed with an anxiety disorder so I understand “transitions.” I hope that your transition to a published novelist is the best one yet.

  3. Thanks to everyone who took time to read this.
    Anonymous, thank you.
    Susan, thank you with a hug.
    Elisabeth, thanks, and your daughter sounds like a dear.
    Linda, thank you for such a kind compliment.
    Dan, you’re welcome. You know I exert great effort to treat you like a four-year-old.
    Marcy, thanks so much.

  4. I remember the first time my daughter Skye told me to let go of her hand a few blocks from school. I was so not ready for that moment.
    Treasure these memories. They grow up all too fast. (Hugs)Indigo
    P.S. If it’s any consolation I don’t think any of us parents do well with transitions.

  5. My middle daughter is the same way. There are a few less tantrums now that she’s 7, but she’s still not big on surprises.
    Of course, I’m none too happy when things don’t go according to plan, either… can it be genetic??

  6. Great post! As a fellow parent I really, totally, and whole heartedly feel the same way. Trust me, I cried alot yesterday because it was my first child’s second birthday.
    Thanks for sharing and thanks to Janet at the Query Shark for posting this!

  7. I’m glad Janet Reid linked me here; this is a lovely post.
    I’m terrible at transitions and I can’t decide whether that means I wish there would be no holidays or no school year. Maybe a full uninterrupted year of each, alternating.

  8. Thanks for sharing. You’ve captured the 4 year old mind so well. Like you, I try to let my 4-year-old daughter know what’s coming around the bend so the situation doesn’t escalate to Def Con 4 in a heartbeat. She’s a huge fan of reconciling change in her own time on her own terms. Each time she shows new independence, my heart breaks just a little.

  9. Beautiful, Sean – I clearly remember those days. I’d get to work and call the daycare and ask, “How’s my baby?” He was crying when I left him there just minutes before. “Adam? Oh, he’s playing with David. He’s fine, really. Don’t worry. Have a great day and we’ll see you later.” I’d hang up the phone and stare at the pictures I had of Adam placed strategically around my desk.
    And, you know the crazy part? He’s now almost 21 and he and David are still great friends.
    BTW, how is it possible I’ve never been to your website before? Shame on me! I’m glad I finally made it. 😉

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