The process for promoting kids at this daycare is a gentle and gradual step-up process, involving a week of transition. Monday she goes to the Preschool class for a few hours in the afternoon; then Tuesday for a few hours in the morning and again in afternoon; then on Wednesday for all the afternoon; then on Thursday and Friday she checks in her old class before going to spend the whole day. Next week, we’ll take her straight to and pick her up from Preschool, having left behind all vestiges of those Early Preschool days.
It’s been an interesting transition. She reportedly enjoyed herself Monday afternoon and had no problems leaving her old class and old teachers to go to the new room. This was reinforced on Tuesday morning when I dropped her off. She refused to go into her old classroom. “No, Daddy,” she insisted, pointing to the door of the Preschool room. “I go to big class now.”
“Not yet,” I told her. “You’ll go later today, but this morning you go back into your old class.”
This did not go over well, not at all. She threw herself to the floor and wailed and wept and gnashed her terrible teeth. All attempts to reassure her that she would be spending time in the big class were ignored with loud pleas to “go to big class now!” She was still bawling when I left her.
On Wednesday morning, I warned her on our way in. “Remember, honey, you have to go to your old class first, then they’ll take you into the big class.”
She seemed to understand and accept this. There was no fuss when I left her in her old class, and she went right to play with her old friends.
This morning, I again explained that she would have to go to her old class before going to her big class. She seemed fine with this, but then when it came time for me to leave, she became clingy. “Hug me,” she said as she attached herself to my leg. (Let it be known that I had already hugged her four times and kissed her twice and high-fived her once.) She wouldn’t let go. No amount of coaxing and encouragement convinced her to let me go. Never mind that I have been dropping her off and leaving her in that classroom now five days a week for the past year; suddenly, she couldn’t bear to see me leave. So just as happened on Tuesday morning, I left her screaming and wailing as her teacher held her back for me to escape.
Does this seem a bit schizo? Maybe, if by “schizo” we mean behaving one way and then suddenly behaving in the exact opposite way. But if we mean “schizo” in the sense that the behavior is abnormal, then no, it was not schizo. It was completely normal. And not just for toddlers – I think this is pretty normal behavior for any human being of any age dealing with any life change.
Change is exciting and frightening; inviting and foreboding. Change brings both growth and loss. This is crazy-making. How does one hold these conflicting experiences and emotions at the same time? (Particularly if you’re only three?) One day she’s upset that change isn’t happening fast enough; the next day she’s upset that any change is happening at all. Do you know any better than she does how to deal with this?
I’d like to think that I do know how to handle that a bit better than my three-year-old does. But I’m not so sure. Perhaps I don’t act out quite as loudly and visibly as she does, but I vacillate between diametrically opposed emotions pretty regularly over even smallish changes in my life. Perhaps I’m more patient with this experience than a toddler is, but I won’t pretend to like it or completely understand it. And, truthfully, I’m really not even that patient with it that often. I feel both irritated that change isn’t happening fast enough, but then when it comes I just want things to be back to normal. I want change when it’s good, but then I want to keep other things the same. I want to pick and choose what changes, so long as I have control over all of it and it affects me only in certain ways and I have the option to go back to the way it used to be at my discretion. In short, I resist change every bit as energetically as I embrace it. And just like Curly Fries, I sometimes act and feel completely different than I felt before.
It’s a beautiful thing to see this reflected back to me in my child’s development. Good gracious, bless her heart, her little life is stuffed with change. Learning to eat, walk, talk, control her excretory functions, navigate the strange emotional world of the adults who lover her… It makes me tired just writing it all down, and I’m a grown man. Recognizing how confusing and exhausting it must be for her to roll with the never-ending stream of change that is her existence as a growing child helps me to have more grace and love for her in those awful moments of anguish. It also helps me have grace for myself. I’m really no different. I might not literally throw myself on the floor in a screaming fit of tears, but I still feel like it. Change is tough and it’s constant. It wears me out even at the same time that it makes my life interesting enough to keep throwing myself into.
Give yourself some grace today. Whatever your life is doing at this moment, let yourself feel the ambivalence of change. It’s what makes us human and we’ve been doing it since we were little.