Last night I wiped the tears and kissed the cheeks and hugged the skinny little body of my anxious three-year-old, who as he thinks about our trip to Australia, is constantly checking that Mama AND Dadda AND Elliot will be there too. “Please don’t leave me,” he sobbed. This is his normal in transition: as all the parts of his life start moving, he clings desperately to the consistency of our family.
He’d overheard Arthur and me talking about how we will manage childcare for him, since home assignment means both of us working, including some evenings. To this child, whose life is being up-ended, special time with grandparents doesn’t sound like a treat. It’s just another morning when everything is different.
As I was reassuring and comforting on the bottom bunk, from the top bunk came the voice of experience of the almost-7 year old, “Don’t worry Callum, you’ll get used to it.”
The irony of this was not lost on me. This from the child whose behaviour during transition is a vivid illustration of the turmoil of his world! However, what he was reflecting was that our family now has a good sense of what his rhythms are. He finds a sense of control in knowing that it takes a predictable 8 weeks for him to settle, that he won’t feel such tumult forever. We talk about tunnels and caves and how it’s good and right and healthy to express your sadness, grief and anger. We have an arsenal of ways to love and soothe him, and recently God brought a sermon across Elliot’s path that was a great comfort to him too. He’s not finding transition any easier, but he is finding it easier to manage, with our help.
When I talk about how difficult the constant transition is for our kids, people often say to me, “Kids are resilient.” I think it’s meant to reassure me that our kids will be fine. It often feels invalidating though, as if people don’t realise how massive what our kids go through is. Yet, that little three year old, lying on his bed weeping his anxiety, shows that kids often have highly developed emotional lives even at a young age. Kids don’t just say things for no reason; they may not be able to fully express what they are feeling, but we can still listen to them. I am committed to aching with and for my kids.
And hearing young Elliot’s acceptance of yet another upheaval broke my mama heart. I want to scream that he shouldn’t have to be resilient! It’s too much for one so small! It seems wrong somehow, that disturbance is a normal rather than an anomaly, that by the age of 7 he has a sense of being used to it.
But I also saw in his words that he has learned compassion. We have offered ourselves to him, and have held his hand to steady him in the turbulence, and now he is offering his experience to his little brother. As Callum desperately clings to us, Elliot is also drawing close to him, to comfort him.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.