Its such a fun time of year.
I always enjoyed the half term before Christmas as a teacher. The children would arrive on the first week back after the break all ready for Halloween and then bonfire night, and then the run up to Christmas would begin. I love all things glittery (fireworks pictures and Christmas decorations), and I loved the build up of excitement and happiness I saw in the children I taught. It was a time of year when we relaxed the demands of the curriculum a little in order to rehearse songs and lines for the Christmas performance, as well as finding time to decorate the classroom, hand out Christmas cards and plan a Christmas party.
Things are a little different now.
I noticed from when Little Bear was quite young that this time of year is hard for him, but this is the first year he has been able to articulate it for himself. There are too many changes, it is too overwhelming for him. The weather is wetter and windier (he hates wind) and gets cold enough that he has to change what he is wearing to go outside; the leaves all change colour and although it is beautiful it also makes the spaces, even the views from the windows, that are so familiar to him look different; the shops start putting signs and decorations out for Christmas when the actual event is still months away; he feels pressure to enjoy himself. He loves the idea of dressing up for Halloween, of watching fireworks (and, for someone who is usually so sensitive to noise, is surprisingly tolerant of the bangs), and of planning and preparing for Christmas Day. But all too often, when the event actually happens, it is just too much pressure.
Halloween night he worried so much about people coming trick or treating that we turned all the lights off in the front of the house to deter people. Still someone knocked, and he worried for nearly an hour afterwards because we didn’t answer the door. This wasn’t helped by Teddy screaming for about the same amount of time because he thought the person knocking on the door was Daddy, and then Daddy didn’t come in.
The day that we planned to go to see the local firework display with friends was a hard day for Little Bear. He was angry and snappish, seeming on the cusp of a meltdown for most of the day. By the time we needed to leave I was very worried he wouldn’t manage it, but he did, and we had a lovely time.
His overwhelm and anxiety has started to affect our lives, now. We have had to cancel plans three times in the last few days, and the activities we have managed have been fraught. Even his time at Forest School, usually one of his favourite points in the week, ended with both boys melting down spectacularly as we were leaving. I am so thankful to the wonderful woman who runs the group, who Little Bear loves and trusts enough to allow her to help me get them both safely to the car. There are not many out there that understand him so well.
This is not a ‘woe is me’ story. This is not a grumble about how my child is making life difficult for me, or impacting upon our happiness. No, I am using these strong signals that Little Bear is sending me to adapt the way we spend our time, in order to protect his sense of safety in his life. Yes, safety. He is not trying to make life difficult for the rest of us, indeed I believe he feels a certain amount of guilt that he is preventing us from doing the things we usually enjoy. No, this is my boy in fight or flight mode because all these changes and events upset his sense of safety. The world suddenly looks different, sounds different, feels different. He has that sense of anxiety or mild panic that everyone gets just before a job interview, a driving test or before speaking in public. Except for him that sense of panic is not going away, it is simmering there in the background, and there it will stay for another two months until all these events are over and we can settle back into normality. Can you imagine feeling that way for two whole months?
This is why we are now ‘digging in’. Little Bear has crossed off almost every event he has written on his calendar for the rest of the month (the only thing that remains in Forest School, even my birthday has been cancelled). This lunchtime he confiscated the front door keys so that we cannot go out. He knows what he needs, he needs to be home in his safe space, with his safe activities, and his safe people around him. And we will be respecting that as far as we possibly can.