I don’t like to think of myself as someone who passes down little bits of wisdom from a preschooler, but sometimes you never know where you might wind up. Two days in a row, my son had epic tantrums after we left daycare. He’s been unpredictable ever since his nursery school let out for the holidays, but these were off the charts. In a brief moment of calm the other day, I asked him why he was getting so angry–was it something that happened at daycare?
“No,” he said, “I just didn’t want to leave.”
“But you seemed so happy to go.”
“I was happy to see you, but I didn’t want to stop playing.”
So I thought about that, after we weathered yet another tantrum that night at bedtime, and I thought about how moving from one thing to another is always the trigger for him: Leaving for school, sitting down to dinner, getting out of the bathtub. You want to see a meltdown (no, I mean a meltdown–whatever you’re thinking, double that and break something), change the plan too quickly. We do all the stuff you’re supposed to do–the ten-minute warnings, telling him the schedule ahead of time, whatever, and still, some days? Forget it, Charlie.
The other night as I was falling asleep, though, I had an idea–the kid wasn’t saying goodbye properly. How can he move to the next thing if he hasn’t let go of what came before? So I decided we were going to say goodbye to everything. Yesterday, we said good bye to the car as we headed off to daycare; when I picked him up at the end of the day–after I hugged him–I made him go back and say goodbye to the kids he was playing with, not just shout over his shoulder. He said goodbye to dinner, to the water in the tub, to the day, everything. It seems remedial, like something he should have learned at age two, but maybe he didn’t. So, we’ll teach it again; we’ll teach it until he learns it, like multiplication tables. I’ll point out that yesterday we didn’t have one single struggle. (This could be rendered useless in a few hours, but just go with it for now.)
On this last day of a year I believe I’d like to kick to the curb and never look back at again, I’m going to take my own advice. On The Night of Two Tantrums I cleaned out my closet. Yesterday morning I either deleted or moved 3,000 emails from my work inbox until it was empty. Goodbye, ugly sweaters. Goodbye, messages that say no more than “Thanks!” or “See you then!” Hello, space. Oh, hi, clarity.
There’s a mild panic inherent with that–that fear of getting rid of the wrong thing, the fear of being left with nothing. That’s a faint but serious fear, and it’s probably one I’ve chosen not to confront fully. I’m pretty sure I’m not that good at saying goodbye. If I think about it, I’m probably someone who just lurches from thing to another and tries not to examine the potentially painful and confusing subtleties of “I was happy to see you, but I didn’t want to stop playing.” Yeah, that’s probably right. There’s evidence of my not quite getting the hang of that.
Maybe my son and I could try to learn that together, the way my dad taught himself to dive by watching my swimming lessons when I was a kid. It took some major humility for a 38 year-old man to kneel at the edge of a pool with a bunch of seven year-olds, but he did it, and he learned. So will I, then. I’ll dive, too.
A lot changed in the last year. A whole lot of ugly realities forced themselves into this house, but a lot of great things happened, too. Sometimes that was a result of the same event; sometimes the two were blessedly separate. I’m looking forward to seeing 2010 go, and while I have no real plans for the year that starts tomorrow, I’m just about ready for it. I just need to make sure I take the time to say goodbye to the one I’m leaving behind.