The Greek philosopher Heraclitus proposed over two millenia ago that the only enduring thing in the universe is change. His theory has been reiterated thousands of times throughout the ages by Plato, Emerson, Tolstoy, Gandhi--even Bob Dylan crooned that "the times, they are a-changin'." And we as human beings do our best to embrace change a-la the adage, "Change is Good."
For Ben, however, change is not good. This was made clear to me about a week ago, when he lost his first tooth.
I knew the tooth had been loose--he showed it to me several days before and asked about nine dozen questions related to the process of tooth loss, tooth growth, and the whereabouts and lifestyle of the tooth fairy. I thought we had covered all necessary preparatory ground.
Still, one morning at breakfast last week, I looked over and saw Ben sitting still as a statue at the breakfast table, staring blankly ahead, "No Vacancy" emblazoned across his face. I was a bit startled. "Ben, what's wrong?" No response. "Ben, are you OK? What's wrong?"
His facial expression never changed, only tears began to roll down his cheeks. I hurried to take him in my arms as he unexpectedly sobbed, "My toof is yoose and it's going to fall out of my mouf and I don't want my toof to come out of my mouf!"
I assured him that everything would be OK, and inspected the "yoose toof" to discover that it was hanging by just a thread. I encouraged Ben to just jerk it out, but he refused--he wanted it to stay right where it was. So, I sent him to school, figuring that nature would take care of the extraction.
That afternoon I went to the school to pick up a cookie dough order, and figured I'd get the boys from school at the same time. When Ben reported to the office, the tooth was even less attached to his jaw than it was before school started, yet still it clung to his gums by the thinnest of filaments, and still Ben refused to pluck it out. Nor would he let me finish off the task. However, when a brave and compassionate school secretary offered to help, Ben was happy to stand in front of her, expose the dangling denticle, and not so much as blink as she counted, 1-2-3! And then plink! The tooth was out. We cheered, we applauded. Ben stood stoically, ne'er so much as a smile, just waiting for the tooth to be placed in a plastic bag, and that was that.
Change has a way of springing up around this time of year, though. For instance, Ben's Primary (his children's class at church) teacher mentioned a few weeks ago that at the beginning of the year, Ben really struggled in Primary. But now, he seems to have settled into the routine--the sameness--of it all. Tragically, the routine is about to change. Come January, Ben will be moved to a new class, a new teacher, a new meeting schedule...so buckle up: blasting zone ahead. Be prepared for the earth to shake for a while. Ben's behavior will deteriorate until he feels comfortable with the new routine. I'm not speculating: this is a time-proven fact.
I'm also noticing that his behavior at school has become more erratic of late: some good days, more bad days. Some good behaviors, more problems with pushing classmates, crawling under desks for large amounts of time, and avoiding class- and homework. Everything is in flux at this time of year: the weather is changing, the time zone is changing, and the daily schedules are changing as classes prepare for Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas programs. Even our home is changing as we begin to rearrange furniture in anticipation of a Christmas tree and holiday decorations. The very atmosphere of life is changing as we move into and through the festivities of winter.
For most of us, these changes make sense and we adapt quite quickly. For Ben, they represent chaos and confusion. Remember the title character in the old 1980's movie "Rain Man"? That character had to watch the same t.v. show every night, and purchase his underwear at the same K-Mart, in order to keep his world together. Ben's not so extreme--he won't bang his head and scream if we pick up some Underoos at Walmart--but routine is still critically important to him. When it changes, so does his behavior. And not in a good way.
So for us, change might be good. But for Ben, change is overwhelming. Unfortunately, Heraclitus had it right: change, for good or bad, is the only thing we can ultimately count on. How do I teach Ben that change IS routine? The irony will certainly be lost on him...it is on me, too.