No Man’s Land

Not everyone in Chicago would say this, but summer vacation and the winter holiday season have more in common than you’d think.

For one thing, the whole world blows expectations all out of proportion for the kids.  How many times in May and June do the kids hear adults say, “You excited for summer vacation?”, “What are you going to do this summer?”, and “You must be looking forward to not having any homework for a while!”   The end of school parties rival the holiday parties around here (seriously – do we need a pizza or ice cream party for every single activity that is ending?).  By the time school ends they’re fairly frothing at the mouth with excitement, much like my kids the week before Christmas.

Further, the kids’ routines get blown through the roof, at least at my house.  I do think that in many ways, it’s the lucky kids who are in the same day camp all summer long.  For my kids, it’s day camp for these 2 weeks, then this long weekend away, then swim camp, then that long weekend away, then these visitors, then that trip, some days at home with little planned, then these other visitors, and on and on.  Their heads must be spinning, even with the monthly calendars I posted on the fridge for them in June.

From the kids’ perspective, it’s not all sunshine and s’mores – even when it’s, well, sunshine and s’mores.

This summer is an official No Man’s Land summer.  We had one the year we moved here from California, the summer before Baxter started first grade.  NEVER AGAIN would I move my family during the summer – we arrived strangers in a strange land with all the kids in our new neighborhood on vacation or in camp, with two months to live through before Baxter’s “real life” (school) started again.  The child was an angry, confused mess.  It was a disaster.  If I had it to do over, we’d have arrived with just one week to unpack before school started.  But you know what they say about hindsight.  It’s a bitch.

This happens to be Lyle’s very own No Man’s Land summer, as it turns out.  No longer in preschool, not yet in kindergarten (the unknowns of which he is very anxious about), and with his nanny of two years finishing up her stint with us in just three weeks, he has begun to unravel.  He clearly feels that he has very little that’s stable and normal to hold onto – except me.

Yes, me.  The child has me on a very short leash right now and his emotions are riding high.  Being his mother, it’s up to me to take it on.  I am not sure when he’s ever had so many fits and tantrums in his 4 3/4 years, but here they are, one after another throughout each day that we’re together (he’s fine the rest of the time, for the record!).  They are about the most minute things, and sometimes the topic of battle shifts mid-tantrum without warning.  Sometimes it looks like this, as he’s screaming about eating another s’more on vacation, or like this, when I stopped the Bob the Builder video exactly where we had decided we would.  He screams dramatically, flails his arms, calls me a “meanie”, yells that we “never” let him do x, y, and z, and generally gets out of control for a really. long. time.

But it’s not about the s’more, or the video, or even the chocolate milk or the cupcakes.  It’s not because he’s overtired or even spoiled rotten (as it may appear when he screams about wanting more cupcakes at a party and I have to finally take him home early because no one can stand another minute of it).  I know it’s not.

It’s about being unmoored, not feeling like he’s on solid ground, and trying to feel out the boundaries around him in this very strange No Man’s Land.  In my estimation, Lyle needs two very different things: 1) to be held really tightly and lovingly and told repeatedly that everything is going to be okay, that we’re here to help him and we know it’s a hard time; and 2) to see that the limits are still the limits and no amount of screaming will move them.

Let me just say that these are very challenging needs to try to meet simultaneously.  We’re working on it over here, but it’s a full time job right now.

And it’s not easy on any of us here in No Man’s Land.

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6 responses to “No Man’s Land

  1. Really a very thoughtful and child-centric way to look at things. It is very hard to have routine in the summer and it can rattle kids, I have seen that first-hand, too.

    So, how many weeks till school starts?? 🙂

  2. My lovely daughter was like that, starting at age 4. We found out what it really was is that she’s ADHD. We’ve suspected it since her IEP, but it hadn’t been formally diagnosed until recently. Since her brother was born at 4, and she started preschool at 4, everyone wanted to blame it on that.

    Then there’s are 3 year old, who will completely pull herself together in 1 second flat if you figure out what she wants & give it to her (Lola & Tristan on the other hand, would still have to calm down first, and Lola might melt down over the fact that she melted down – much better now that she’s 11 & on Straterra, though). Now that we realized 3 yr old Lily is actually acting manipulatively, we’ve responded accordingly (we’re used to the two, older, non manipulative kids). 123 magic works with her. The explosive child works with Lola.

  3. our three year old not are three year old.

  4. I hear ya! (Do I always comment with that?) I feel the same way about summer and especially the lead up. It was so bad towards the end of school last year that Scott actually said, “I want it to just be a normal day today!” There is so much pressure to “have fun” that a kid who might be a bit on the edge cracks when one thing doesn’t go exactly right. They feel like the whole summer thing has been ruined and it was supposed to be fabulous (that’s what everyone told them, right?). You are so good at understanding all this! I wish everyone could and would help their children as you’ve suggested instead of beating themselves up or stressing their kids out even more.

  5. Kimberly Daniels August

    We moved the summer before kindergarten and had the same thing happen – constant break-downs with me in particular. I too saw that it is not a good time to move. I understood generally what was going on, but still wonder if I could have helped her more during that time. Anyway, I know for sure I would not have been able to articulate it so well. Thank you! And hang in there!

  6. We’re going through a bit of that right now with our son. I can relate.

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