Mostly, it’s the tantrums. They are loud, wild, and uncontainable. These are the things she has thrown tantrums over just this week:
· Wearing shoes
· Not being able to wear Mommy’s shoes
· Having eggs for breakfast
· Having quiche for dinner
· Having pizza for dinner
· Having spaghetti for dinner (what a lucky kid! Pizza and spaghetti, I mean, come on!)
· Not getting a fourth helping of watermelon for dinner
· Getting only six minutes of playtime instead of ten
· Not getting to stay up late and watch TV (and she’s only four!)
· Getting her hair combed
· Getting her hair put up in a ponytail
· Getting a bath
· Going to the potty
· Wetting her pants because she didn’t go to the potty
· Going to school
· Going home from school
· And, my personal favorite reason for her to throw a tantrum: because Mommy and Daddy are mad at her.
I know that these things are regressive symptoms of her new surroundings. How do I know? Other than the other regressive symptoms – she gets up in the middle of the night, she’s had more potty accidents – these are things she wasn’t doing a month ago. At least, not with the same frequency and intensity. She has become an emotional two-year-old, but with the physical agency of a four-year-old. She’s hit us, scratched us, thrown things, and in one inspired moment, spit on the floor after declaring, “I’m going to spit on the floor!”
And always with the constant wailing. She’s invented a new way to sob. It’s far more guttural and rumbling than it used to be. It’s as if in having a larger home, she knows she needs to work harder to completely fill the space with the volume of her voice.
It’s maddening. The only consolation we can find – and it’s small – is that we know what’s going on. The remedy, besides trying to marshal the kind of patience reserved for caricatures of saints, is to stick firm to both our routines. Stories at bedtime are non-negotiable; so are bath nights, morning dress procedures, and clean-up rituals. She is hyper-sensitive to routine. I’m still trying to find the best route for my commute home, and she notices every time I go a different way. She will become accustomed to the new surroundings, but the quicker we can establish a firm, predictable existence in the new home, the better.
And, of course, the love. Regression is, in simply Freudian terms, a coping response to feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. Her ultimate concern in all of this is to simply be reassured that we love her, we’re taking care of her, and she can depend on us. This isn’t helped when we lose our patience and temper at her terrible, terrible behavior. It’s a real bind. When I can marshal the patience, it’s because I keep reminding her that this terrible behavior is a cry for reassurance. At the heart of it all, she needs to know that our love for her is as unbendable as we know it really is.
There are other concrete approaches we’re trying. I’m going to give her a tour of her bedroom this weekend: where her clothes, toys, books are being kept. My therapist even suggested I let her name her new furniture. Anything to help her feel more in control.
We went through this a year ago when we moved to Charlotte. You’d think we’d have learned some things after that experience. But as anyone caring for children knows, it’s one thing to think and talk about parenting from a removed theoretical standpoint; it’s another to put it into practice with an actual child in the middle of a meltdown. We’re doing our best, I suppose. And even if we keep failing, we can trust that, just like last fall, she will adapt and settle down. Let’s all just pray that we can make it until then before I start regressing too much.