It is one of those mornings. Sam woke up early and now he is in my bed, snuggled as close as possible, twirling my hair around his fingers. His breath is warm on my cheek and his long limbs are wrapped around me. “I don’t want to go to school, Mama. I don’t like my new school. Nobody loves me there. And the toys are boring,” he says.
I turn to him and hold him close, trying to find the right words to comfort him. It is not easy.
My little guy is having a hard time. To be honest, we are all having a hard time, but Sam is the one who is new to this world of changes and challenges. We just moved to a new city and he started attending a new preschool. We are away from family, from the familiar, from the routine.
At first, everything was exciting: the new school, the new classmates, the new teachers. There were new toys to explore, new books to read, new songs to learn. As we worked on establishing a new life, it was fun to explore things together. Just going to the grocery store was an adventure.
But now it seems the honeymoon is over and Sam is more and more aware of what he is missing from our old life. He talks about the friends he left behind, his favorite children’s museum and playground, our old house where he was born. We visit often because his grandparents still live there, but sometimes I am not sure if returning “home” as he refers to it is helpful or if it’s just making the adjustment even harder.
Sam is a talker, so we talk a lot about what is going on. We explain why we moved, we plan our next visits, we wonder at all the new stuff around us. We talk about what it’s like to miss someone and we tape pictures of his old friends on his bedroom wall, while also encouraging him to talk about his new friends and what he enjoys doing with them.
But there are days that are just hard, no matter what we do. He wakes up crying from his nap at school, or bites one of his classmates, or gets in trouble for goofing off at the lunch table. On those days I wonder if this is just too much for him. I feel guilty for putting him through such a huge change, for uprooting him, and taking him away from everything that was comforting and familiar.
But that is life, isn’t it? People and places come and go. There are always new schools, new jobs, new situations. Sam has to learn to adapt, to find a place in an ever-changing world. He has to learn to stand up for himself on the playground. He has to learn what it’s like to be excluded and how to deal with it. He has to learn how to resolve conflicts, how to find new friends, how to ignore the unpleasant ones. He has to learn about work and responsibility, about missing someone you love, about adjusting to the comings and goings of daily life.
As a parent, my first instinct it to protect Sam from all of this unpleasantness. But I also want him to be able to navigate difficult situations, to be comfortable with change. It is my job to prepare him for whatever might come his way. So in my moments of doubt, I quietly hope that all of this upheaval in his life will help him later. Maybe this is giving him tools for the future that will be useful whenever he has to walk into a room full of new people, or start anew on his own in a strange city.
Helping Sam adjust to his new life is also making me examine my own coping skills. It’s easy to drown whatever ails you in chocolate and wine, but that is not so helpful for a 4-year-old. Until now when he was going through a difficult time–a growth-spurt, or teething, or bad dreams–the solutions seemed obvious: more naps, more fresh air, more cuddling, a little Advil here and there. But this is serious business, the emotions raw and tangible and I am in constant fear that what I am doing is not enough. Whatever I am doing to help seems to serve only to cover up the emotions deep within, not solve them. But can I even do that for him? I mean, no matter what we do at home in the evening, during the day Sam has to go out into the big world and deal with things on his own. I can’t be there for him all the time.
So on this morning I rub his back and hold back the urge to tell him that he can just stay at home and not face this day that must seem so daunting and scary to him. It would be so easy to call in sick and stay in our PJs all day, to remain cocooned in our little nest. I wish that were the way to deal with all scary days ahead. Instead I coax him to brush his teeth and pick out his clothes. I make him his favorite for breakfast: Nutella on toast and strawberries. I slip a small piece of chocolate in his lunch bag as a surprise. We pick out a book for him to read in case he can’t fall asleep at naptime. During the short drive to school we sing and play air guitar and roll down the windows to let in the warm spring air.
“Mama, you will pick me up right after nap, right?” he asks when I pull into the parking lot. I look back at him in the rear view mirror and nod. “OK,” he says. “Then I will be a big boy today.”