For one of my girls especially, the first week of summer is fraught with anxiety. I hear at least 10 times a day, “Is it a school day?”. When you have no concept of time, very little executive functioning abilities, and a routine schedule is what helps you keep it together, summer isn’t months full of endless possibilities for fun. Summer is this big unknown scary thing.
I’m still learning about my kids, still learning how to parent them well, and still learning why certain behaviors happen. Many parents of traumatized kids (especially those kids with other struggles such as FASD) dread summer. They feel all alone in their own anxiety because teachers and other parents don’t understand. They hear a lot of, “Well, they do fine here….”. I am so blessed because our kids’ educators do empathize. They know that they get the best of my kids (medication timed perfectly for the best possible focus and behavior at school), and that they keep their anxiety in check all day at school, holding themselves together, until they get home. That’s when they feel safer to allow the explosions, melt downs, and repeated questions to take over…or they just can’t hold it in anymore.
The last two days one of my littles has been following me around like a duckling. (I must say that part of that is over 5 years of training because I have to keep her with me to keep her from getting into trouble. I do so miss bathing and peeing without an audience.) I was starting to really get irritated with the kid on my heels asking the same questions over and over and over until it dawned on me that she is struggling with a huge amount of anxiety because she isn’t in her regular routine. Hence the getting up before 6am. Hence the whining. Hence the mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mama mama mama mama…..
I have a visual schedule she can follow, and that helps a bit, but our day at home with housework, errands, yard work, etc. is not as predictable as a day at school. And when the momming and questions were getting closer together and the following on my heels was getting as physically close as it could be without her tripping over me, it dawned on me that we just needed to sit together for a minute. Dinner was on the grill. A ton of things were going on. But I sat down with her, pulled her in my lap, wrapped her in a blanket and held her like an infant, looking into her eyes. (The fact that we could do this is major progress. She wouldn’t have allowed that a few years ago.)
I asked her if she was feeling worried or afraid. She said yes. So I told her that sometimes her brain tells her body the wrong message, to feel feelings that don’t fit for what is happening. I told her she was safe. I listed all the people that loved her. I told her we were all home together and staying home for the evening. I told her that everything would be okay. We talked about asking the Holy Spirit to bring her peace and to tell her brain that she is okay. We did our deep breaths. I taught her a quote from Julian of Norwich I used to whisper to Andrew, a foster baby we had a number of years ago, hoping it would somehow stick with him as he left us, “All shall be well, and all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
And the kid who has hardly played for the last several days because she couldn’t stay focused and couldn’t leave my side, relaxed, got a little teary, then got up and jumped in the pool and started pretending mermaids with her sister. Just like that.
After 17 years of parenting, I’m still learning. Learning that presence is powerful. We moms are busy with household tasks that never end, and many other responsibilities, but taking just a moment when our kids need it is crucial. I often don’t stop to do this – I get caught up in the million things I on my list and just “manage” what’s going on in the house rather than investing. Don’t get me wrong – our kids should need to learn that there is work to be done and Mom has responsibilities – but in the moments they need us, it is critical they know that they matter. And even more so for kids from trauma and hard places.
Dinner was a bit “crispy”. We had leftover veggies instead of fresh. And I had a girl that played mermaids in the pool and has slept in later than she has in over a week.
"All shall be well, and all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well."