Bud is struggling at school.
I write about this tentatively, with trepidation, and with the knowledge that I am edging closer than I'd like to the part of Bud's life that might best be kept private. But you all have too much wisdom, too much understanding, too much to offer to allow me to hold it back. So I offer it out:
Bud is struggling at school.
At the core, I think this is separation anxiety. It starts in the evening as we get ready for bed, usually just as a series of points of information: "I was upset at school today. I missed you at school today. I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I'll miss you at school." By morning, the points become more insistent: "I don't WANT to go to school. I CAN'T go to school. School is scary. I'm sad at school. I'll miss you. We'll miss each other."
The tears begin as we don our coats. The ride to school is iffy, but we often get a reprieve if I've remembered to bring my iPod or if the stars have aligned and "Free and Easy" is playing on the radio. Then the anxiety begins again as we pull into the school yard: "I'll miss you. We'll miss each other. I don't want to go to school." By the time we get to the classroom, Bud's tears are flowing. Sometimes they last a few minutes. Sometimes, like today, they transform into keening and wailing that builds and builds throughout the morning until he lays his head on the table in exhaustion and falls asleep for forty-five minutes in the middle of the noisy, bustling classroom.
Bud's dad and I have talked about it: it doesn't take a PhD in developmental psychology to figure out what's going on here. From Bud's perspective, his dad disappeared suddenly and he's worried that while he's not looking his mom might slip away as well. We've both tried to send consistent messages: "Dad loves you even though he doesn't live with you. You are going to see Dad again. Mom is not going away. You will always live with Mom." And I've tried every approach I can think of to address Bud's fears and tears in the moment: acknowledging his feelings; agreeing that we'll miss each other and assuring him that we'll see each other at the end of the day; focusing on the happy reunion we'll have at supper time; reminding him of the people and things he enjoys at school; working with the teacher to have an important job waiting for him when he arrives at school; using a different doorway to mix up the "drop-off script"; arriving a little early; arriving a little late; bribing him with a snack in exchange for a tear-free drop-off; and even employing a tough-love approach that left us both worse off than we'd started out.
The good news is that we've finally made it to the top of a very long wait list, and Bud has an appointment with a child psychologist next week. My hope is that she will be able to help us help him process what he's experienced, talk about what he's feeling, and work through the things that are getting in his way. I hope I'm not being unrealistic - but, frankly, if I am, please don't tell me. Unrealistic expectation might just be what's getting me through these difficult mornings right now.
But there must be a strategy I haven't tried - some magical mix of words and actions that will make all the difference for Bud and help him to feel safe and secure and confident again. But what does it look like? What else can I try? How can I help him manage the fears and the tears and the overwhelming emotion of I miss you, I miss you, I miss you?
What else is there? What am I missing?