You would think that Summer holidays would be a time for resting and regrouping, a time when we don’t have to be here or there, no preschool drop offs and pick ups, no appointments, no enrichment sessions, no meetings, a time to wake up in the morning and decide what the summer day might bring.
Instead we are all exhausted. There is no balance. There are too many surprises. There is too much excitement. There is too much expectation. There is too much free time. There is too much stimulation. There is too much heat. In a house where there is often “too much” at the best of times, we really don’t need any extra around here.
Every year it comes around and every year I look forward to the things that one expects to enjoy at Christmas time like spending time with family and relaxing. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy spending time with family, on both sides, and I’m lucky to have strong relationships with my family but “relaxing” Christmas is not. It is not relaxing for my family to share a space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time regardless of who they are.
Being an extremely social child Little5 LOVES connecting, playing, conversing, sharing experiences, celebrating with family and friends and would quite happily do so with any other enthusiastic friendly human who wanted to join in regardless of age. She is super friendly and does not discriminate. She is disappointed often when others are not as forthcoming with their enthusiasm, so to be around family at Christmas time is magical for her. As someone who has always felt lacking in appropriate enthusiasm I am thankful that she has this quality and know it will bring her great joy in her life. But she has a little trouble regulating and modulating that excitement and often on holidays it all becomes “too much”.
The build up to holidays and celebrations sometimes starts months in advance for her. She asks how many days to go and wants to mark them off each day closer. When the day before the day finally comes she runs around saying we must get ready, we must prepare, we must have everything perfect. I’m already exhausted at this point.
So apart from emotional intensity what gets in the way of the perfect long awaited day? Well when you wait that long for something you want to have some control over it’s execution and 5 year olds do not control Christmas, particularly when it’s not held in their home but at another relatives house.
On the day Little5 cries dramatically during present giving because she wants to play her new keyboard but she can’t hear it and her cousin keeps pressing the buttons. She appears to be possessive with no ability to share. Little 5 becomes very emotionally overwhelmed during present giving and has to be taken away. She appears emotionally immature and overly sensitive. Little5 gives in to temptation and makes small changes to the lunch table decorations after being told not to do so. She appears disrespectful and disobedient. Little5 cries dramatically when her cousin mixes two of her playdough colours after the two of them had already mixed her cousin’s colours. She appears selfish and emotionally immature. Little5 comments that there is nothing on the Christmas lunch table that she likes to eat. She appears rude and ungrateful.
In fact large numbers of people shoving presents at one another, one after the other, whilst tearing at paper, and gushing their thanks, and pressing and twirling and fiddeling with their gadgets, and piling them up, and tearing and chattering and piling and shoving some more leaves no room at all for Little5 to identify, examine, experience, appreciate, be grateful for, or play with her new keyboard. She can’t do the things she is naturally driven to do. She can’t share the experience because there is too much noise and nobody is listening. The emotions fly around her body – anticipation, excitement, thanks, and then frustration. The noise, the emotions, the movement of bodies and presents and paper and piles and the loose drifting words whirl around her and she becomes flooded with it all. Her sensory system is picking up everything in that room.
Little5 loves celebrations, preparations, and being a helper. She has waited months for the day when she can hang decorations and invite family to see what she has done. She is desperate to be a part of it all but the adults keep telling her not to touch and giving her meaningless jobs aimed to distract her. She knows she is careful and detail oriented. She knows the adults want a beautiful Christmas table that is matching and patterned and admired and she knows she can help make it so but her desires are frustrated.
Little5 cries about her playdough being mixed because it is brand new and she knows that mixing colours makes playdough brown. Nevertheless she likes to mix colours so is very pleased when she asks her little cousin if she minds having her colours mixed and her cousin answers “no” so they proceed to mix and play together. Later when her cousin does the same to Little5’s playdough without first seeking permission, Little5 reacts like something very unjust has occurred because in her minds eye it has.
When Little5 comments that she doesn’t like the Christmas food, the expectations inside her about the greatest food of the year, the big lunch that’s been prepared for days, the banquets she’s seen gobbled up on tv, the anticipated sweets that come with a celebration, come crashing down as she gazes at numerous plates of food she is entirely unfamiliar with. Even the foods she knows are different. The carrots are cooked not raw, the potatoes are seasoned not plain, the ham is thick and salty not fine and mild. For a child who notices the slightest differences in say, the brand of rice cake, or the thickness of cheese, or the freshness of bread; eats very few foods; and will choose to go hungry rather than try something different, the long anticipated Christmas lunch holds only disappointment.
SO when Little5 is sobbing at bed time because “Christmas wasn’t Christmassy at all, it was just for the grown ups, it didn’t feel right” she doesn’t appear ungrateful and bratty. She appears to us like our sweet, sensitive, gifted, perfectionist with exceptional enthusiasm and energy and an enormous appetite for celebration, for sharing life with others, for feeling joy. In bed we feel relieved that we made it through the day. We feel relieved that we have left the world outside our door. It is just us and our little girl and she is just right.