His energy is out to here, he’s frazzle dazzle beyond the norm and he cannot stop his renegade fists from hurtling toward his little brother, who’s taunting him, yes, but the rising anger doesn’t seem commensurate with the four-year-old’s na-na-na-na-na-s. His own body hurls him one direction as if to pull him away, to help him stop himself, but his hands reach farther and make contact before his core can carry him out of striking distance.
This is happening a lot lately. I was mystified for a few days of this until I remembered that a sudden surge of quick frustration and lack of impulse control signals one thing: It’s transition time.
School starts in about two weeks, and Charlie isn’t sure what to do about it. Neither am I, frankly. He’s flailing around in the dark waters of his unknown first-grade future and it’s doing a number on his sensory system. His radar is up, he’s looking for clues as to what it’ll be like going back to school, everything looks murky and he’s not sure how to feel about it all. On one hand, he’s excited for first grade. He can’t wait to see his friends everyday again, particularly his beloved Rosie. On the other hand, he knows he’ll be learning to read—for real—this year, and he’s daunted. He’s reluctant to recite his popcorn words, to read aloud, to practice handwriting. “I just want to play and have fun,” he whines.
“Reading is fun, Charlie,” I console him.
“To you,” he says, mastering snark way too early in life.
The next moment, we’re wrestling on the floor in a mock fight to prove who’s tougher, me or him. He’s grunting. I’m growling. We’re loud. We’re rolling around in a giant hug of doom. After a couple minutes, we both forfeit the match and lie on our backs, giggling.
Me: Bud, do you remember that time I cut your ear off when I was trying to cut your hair?
No joke, when he was nearly three, I snipped a piece of his everloving ear. I called my doctor’s office bawling, the nurse laughed and told me this happens all the time. It’ll grow back, she said, but you can bring him in tomorrow if you want. I did and, sure enough, he healed.
Charlie: (laughing) Yeah, Mommy. I do remember when you cut my ear off. And that’s why we go to the Hair Cuttery now. Why on earth did you do that?
Me: (softly pinching the tippy top of his ear) It was an accident! I was just snip, snip, snipping, you moved your cute little head and—AAAH!—I cut off a tiny piece of your ear. Right here… I felt sooo terrible, Love. Do you have any sadness or madness about that happening? If so, you can tell me about it.
Charlie: (hugging me tightly) No way, Mommy. I know it was an accident. I know you wouldn’t cut my ear off on purpose. Wooooould you???
Me: No, I definitely would not cut your ear on purpose. What do you remember about that moment?
Charlie: Oh, gosh, Mommy. It was so funny. I remember right after it happened you yelled, “CROPS!!!”
Charlie: (giggling and clenching his fists, mocking me) Yeah. You were like, “CROPPPPPPSSSS!!!”
Me: (relieved he didn’t detect what was more likely an emphatic f-bomb) You mean I was like, “CORN! SOYBEANS! WHEAT!!!”?
And in this instant, the coolest thing happened. We both started laughing uncontrollably. Really, really hard. I wasn’t pretending to be tickled, as parents often do with their kids; and he wasn’t giving me any courtesy chuckle, either. Together, we disintegrated into deep, true, breathless laughter that went on for several minutes. As soon as our laughter slowed, he yelled out, “TOMATOES!!!” and we started laughing again. Next it was “CUCUMBERS!!!” and we laughed some more. It went on.
Afterward, we fell back into an all-consuming hug, so tight around my neck were his arms and his cheek pressed so hard into mine. I think we both felt heaps better about first grade.
I keep searching for the answer for how to bridge my boys’ transition from summertime to first grade and pre-K, respectively, and it’s actually so easy. What do most of us want when we’re facing the scary unknown? Hugs, laughter, love and time spent together. Here’s to lots of that for all of us.