It doesn’t seem to matter that I gave the warning, hollered out “five more minutes,” then reported “just one more!” Each time, he heard me; each time I got the reply that suggested his understanding. We are winding down from this activity, it indicated. We are preparing to stop. We are readying ourselves for the next thing. We are about to make a transition. And yet, it comes — his shock at being told to put the bike away, it is dinner time. Even with all the signals and signs, the flashing lights and the warning for what is ahead, he acts as though I’ve grabbed his bike by the wheels, thrown a stick in the spoke as it careens to an finite halt. His protests are loud; his body engaged in a full-out-war against all rationality. We know this: transitions are hard.
For me, too. I can cross my arms, sit back on my haunches, and watch as he falls to pieces. I can do this because I know exactly what he means. There is nothing that I can say to him, no warning I can give that takes the sting out of this change. There are days when it is a challenge to get him into the bath, to wash the day’s debris off of his tan skin, only to be met with a struggle at the other end, to coerce him out of it’s warm stream and into the next thing. Or when I’ve carefully crafted and explained our day’s doings, the list of errands and adventures linked side by side, he still resists when it’s time to get out of pajamas and into clothes for the day. Though I do my best to provide a safe way to navigate this shifting of gears, I take a back seat and watch him struggle with change. I know that he just has to do the next thing. Put the right shoe on. Then the left. Take a deep breath. I know that my mother will nod with familiar comprehension. There are tales of my childhood that will follow me, always and still.
Mostly it seems as though all the warning in the world can’t prepare us for what is to come. Can we ever truly hear “five more minutes” for the harsh reality that it brings? It is mid-August now. The brown grass has been crunching under my feet for weeks, and the leaves have curled up towards the sky begging for water. The cicadas have been offering the soundtrack for these last weeks of the summer. Here are my signs; these are the signals. Change is coming. School is around the corner, bringing new routines. More from the “have-to” column, less from the “want-to.” And yet, even with these familiar warnings, and that growing flutter of anxiety in my belly, I know that when I turn the calendar’s page to September, I will not be prepared. I will not have loosened my grip slowly, and will instead abruptly have summer torn out of my hands. The twig of Autumn will jam into the spoke of my summer days, just like that bike that the Eldest didn’t want to stop riding. I’m sure there will be a crash, a fall. Transitions around here are like that. And really, do we ever out grow this tension?
There is a phase in childbirth carefully labeled “transition.” Don’t be fooled by this delicate phrasing. This is the most intense and difficult stage, but it also the shortest. There is no relief, as the mother’s whole body is being enveloped in this work of birth. It is the final work to get ready for pushing the baby out. I don’t think this is a coincidence, then, that we call it such. And though the word “transition” doesn’t fully describe what it feels like (what words can ever be used to communicate this?) it does nail down what we know to be true for the rest of our lives: the work of getting ready is difficult. The work of moving from one thing to the next is intense. Usually, it is accompanied my the promise that it will be short in time. Soon, the mother will embrace her baby. Soon, we will relax into the routine of Fall, only after we’ve done the hard work of adjusting to the new schedule for school.
I offer my compassion to him, then, in the middle of his undoing, because I know that no matter how clear the signs, no matter how many warnings, transitions are hard.