The summer holidays are hard. The morning routine is different. Daddy is home all the time and the signals that tell my gorgeous boy what will happen next are all mixed up. We might go to the shops in the afternoon – or the morning. A nursery day does not begin with daddy in a suit, bundling him into the car. The pattern of days in and days out and weekends and weekdays becomes a jumble.
We use visual cues, we let him know what will be happening well in advance – but still, I can feel the ball of unease that nestles in his stomach. Things are not certain. Things may change. Things are not as easily predicted. The daily routine no longer directly relates to what will be happening on that day.
And, as my boy’s anxiety blooms, his need for reassurance grows and his resilience fades. He takes comfort in repetition – the ultimate in predictability – and so he asks the same questions, seeks the same answers, over and over.
His ability to cope with small things diminishes with each day. All his energy is spent. Two weeks ago, my boy could cope with a sarcastic remark. Today, he cannot. Two weeks ago, my boy could tolerate the noise of the coffee machine, the application of sun cream. Today, he cannot.
Two weeks ago, my boy was happy and content, more often than he was anxious and terrified.
Today, he is not.
Never the less, we persevere with our holiday. There is much to explore; there are wonders to seek out and a universe of things to delight us. So, while the joy still outweighs the anxiety, we venture out into the world –
We are out on a trip. It is a blustery day of sunshine and showers. The changeable weather means my boy is already anxious. Raincoats are needed for rainy days and sun cream and hats for sunny days – but what of today? Today does not fit.
And so, when the rain shower ends and we must put on sun cream, he screams and lashes out. His shouts are piercing and wild. I feel strangers’ eyes turn on us and my chest tightens. I do not care if people think I am a bad parent. I turn my eyes away, focus on him alone. But I can never escape the burning sense of injustice. It is not fair that others see him like this. His charm and kindness are hidden from those who see only those moments. They define him – not his rage.
A few minutes later, the fountain in the garden fascinates him to the point of obsession. He lingers longer than the other children, watching, repeating, flapping with joy as the huge spurts of water ebb and flow. He is still anxious. I know because he lies on the floor to get a better view and to feel the stone slabs against his body. Pressure is reassuring, when the world is not.
Later, he will be delighted by a friend’s pink hair and he will ask her, again and again, what happened to it. Later still, he will be overwhelmed with fear, watching the children jumping and climbing in the play park.
At home, after the stresses of the day, he is mute or raging, with little in between. We tread on egg shells, think carefully about every sentence we speak, every demand we make of him.
So goes the summer. We balance joy and terror and store up just enough resilience to go out seek adventures.
And we hope it is the right thing to do.