You cannot pause time. No matter how hard we may try, while our son B is at his mom’s, life does continue and change happens. We do not have your typical custody on every other weekend and summers just up the street from his mother, but instead with 5 states between us and across the span of up to four or five months at a time. It’s incredibly painful for all parties involved, but most of all B.
B has an unusually strong need for structure when the transition first occurs between homes. It appears to looks like the home he has left, the people look the same (most of the time), but there is the breeze of change. Sister is now walking, Mama Jess has changed from a traveling career focused individual to a stay at home mom, and Dad has grown a beard. Each change, even the tiniest difference takes adjusting for a young toddler. B will take stickers of astronauts, satellites, and comets and place them in orderly lines as according to their shape on his space wall. I will walk into his room to call him for lunch and find him laying out all of socks across his bed in lines, unfolded, and piled with their corresponding mates. B struggles to create his own order.
A Structure I Personally Practice to Aid in Stability:
1. A Daily Task Calendar: The one we use personally is Melissa and Doug since overtime it can be altered as B grows, or as B and I see fit together. I never alter the line up without his input. Each last day before he returns to his mom we layout the many different possible responsibilities and, aside from the usual brush of teeth and bathe, B and I discuss what he may want to try next time. Every night we review his day and place the “stickers” where we have completed each task, and discuss how these were completed which which then completes that day.
2. Weekly Scheduled Activities: Every day of the week is planned special. Sundays are spent at my grandparents for some solid family time. Mondays we spend at Moody Gardens where we partake in an immersive exploration of whatever themes lie ahead for the week (Dinosaurs, sharks, penguins, etc). Tuesdays are library day, meet new friends, here a fresh story, and choose selected titles that fit with that weeks themes and ideas. Wednesdays were around the house day, enjoy our books, work in our vegetable garden, free play in the beloved space room. Thursdays were adventure days, somewhere new and exciting in town, perhaps a carousel at Kemah, a picnic in Hermann Park, or a stolen afternoon in at a quiet community beach. Fridays were the day of friends and sleepovers. Saturdays were daddy fun days, often fill with allot of hot dogs and sunshine.
3. Household Responsibilities: I will cover this more in a later blog, but daily chores really help B feel like an integral part of our family.
4. Bedtime Routine: The most difficult hurtle with B was bed time, it seemed like such a shock to him that there was a bedtime and it went with a bedtime routine. But overtime he came to look forward to it. Bath time was a blast, he loved to choose his favorite PJ’s of the moment, but most of all he loves his story time. We make sure to read one story of his choice, and then ask him to close his eyes as we continue with two our three poems of Shel Silverstein, always finishing on the poem Picture Puzzle Piece.
As we continue these routines, the astronaut stickers gradually find their way to other planets, the satellites begin to orbit, and slowly one by one as B feels closer and closer to safety in his routine the comets soar with reckless abandon. Then the sad day comes that our visit concludes and as we head out the door to the airport we find ourselves instructing him to go back and put on a matching pair of socks.