Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Joy of Routine and the Agony of School Delays

Holy S.  (Except I am saying the real word.)  This is what I am muttering, under my breath as Matthew’s van pulls away at 10am this morning.  We woke up to about 4 inches of snow, which in CT means a 90 minute delayed start of school instead of a snow day.   Holy S.   This morning feels like I have been through 10 hours of intense, yet unsuccessful behavior training.   Holy S.  Our morning routine is off, so Matty is off.

Routine.  Many of us crave it.  Some can’t operate without it.

Matthew requires routine.  It’s what keeps his world safe and happy.   He always knows which day he has art, gym, library and music at school before school even starts (he dictates an email to his new teacher each August to ask).  He knows Kathryn’s schedule, too, which is great because he reminds her to return her school library books on time!  His first grade teacher once told me that the Spanish teacher entered the classroom for her weekly Spanish lesson with the class.  Everyone, teachers and students included, were getting into the lesson and Matthew kept saying, “but Senora, today is Tuesday, we don’t have Spanish on Tuesday”.   Guess who was right?    Senora left and went next door to the correct class.

He loves predictability, structure and routine.  If the plumber comes over on a Tuesday after school to fix a sink, Matthew will certainly ask, “is he coming next Tuesday, too?” 

So, once we read the email about the delayed opening of school at 6am, all bets were off for a smooth morning around here.   Matthew was nervous, anxious, and those feelings generate difficult behaviors and poor choices.  I literally can’t leave him alone in a room.   His impulsivity mixed with anxiety makes it impossible for him to make good choices.  I turned my back to check on Kathryn and he was flushing the hand soap bottle down the toilet (hence, the plumber visiting our house a lot, so he might very well be back next Tuesday!).  When I went outside for one minute to shovel the small patch of snow that was outside our door, he thought that would be a good time to find my car keys (my mistake for not having them in my pocket) and push all the buttons opening my hatch back.   These are just 2 examples of many more that made my morning feel like a marathon of unsuccessful behavior training.

It is in these small, intense moments that I am in pain.  I feel like a parenting failure.  Why won’t he just listen/stop touching/sit still/pay attention/follow rules.  He is 9 ½ years old, not 2.  But the real pain is when I allow myself, for a brief moment to think about the future.  Will he still be this impulsive in 5 years?  Will I still have to follow him around when he’s 18 to make sure he isn’t touching a candle or running out into the street? 

In December, Matthew had lots of new routines that he enjoyed.  Our holiday lights were on a timer and went on precisely at 4:05pm each afternoon.  Starting at about 4:00, on any afternoon in December, you will find Matthew perched by the front window, waiting for those lights to go on.  And when they turn on every day at 4:05, he cheers and claps like he just won a million dollars. 

On Christmas Eve, the service at our church started at 4:30.  We knew we had to leave our home early to get a seat, but we had to time it around the lights magically turning on at 4:05.  The car was running in the driveway, we were all sitting in it bundled up, waiting for the lights to go on so we could pull out of the driveway. 

Here is Matthew before (anticipating lights going on):    
 And the pure joy after:


Predictability.  Do you know what got us through the non-structured three days at Christmas time staying with Nana and Papa at their house?  Along with the dedicated help from Nana and Papa, and Deb, Ken, Doug and Erin – this clock.  

Every hour it played a different Christmas carol in Nana and Papa’s kitchen, and Matthew was perched next to it starting at 55 past the hour, just waiting for it.  This clock gave his day some structure.  He could count on this clock to sing a song every hour.

And these street lights:

Random picture of the street lights
in front of my parents' house.
Each morning they turned off by dawn and each evening they turned on at dusk.  Matthew
sat by the window and just watched until the street lights came on (or turned off).  He
wouldn’t dare miss it.  It’s his routine at Nana and Papa’s.  It’s what makes him feel
safe and happy.

Safe and happy.  Don’t we all want to feel this way?

Matthew has taught me there is goodness in routine.  When I am rushing through a meal, like tonight at dinner, he reminds me after a few bites, “Mommy, we forgot to say our dinner prayer,” and then he says one so beautifully.

Part of his routine as we say goodbye to each other every morning on the van is, “I love you mommy, you’re my favorite mommy.”  So even though I was muttering “Holy S” after the difficult, unsuccessful morning, I am reminded how lucky I am to be his mom.  (And lucky that it was just a 90 minute delay and not a snow day!!)

Matty and Papa watching the street lights turn on last summer.