Lines and Tantrums and Sharks Oh My

I don’t know what was more frightening to me-

this shark over and over again in the circular tank

(I am the person who thinks she felt a shark brushing across her leg in the swimming pool),

or having absolutely no idea why Sam was in full blown tantrum mode in downtown Boston today.

As in, on his stomach at one point beating the pavement.

It’s been over seven months since the last one.

It started when he was told we were going home after lunch, and not to the nonexistent playground that was circling around in his head instead.

He cried, threatened to throw away his aquarium souvenir (light saber-why aquariums sell light sabers is reason for another post all together), and screamed sarcastically to every pedestrian in ear shot; “Fine! Fine! I am really loving this day. This is so much fun. I just love this day!”

I walked alongside him wondering why, hating the scene, exhausted, frustrated, perplexed.

Was there a bigger why beyond the early departure, complete lack of all that is routine, new people, tremendous excitement, and sharing me with a handful of people, let alone the several thousand we passed during the morning?  Or was it just that he really needed to run around and he knew it?

My cousin and her husband did such a lovely job not making us feel mortified. Had it been me, I might have had a few choice words for that person’s unruly child. Instead she actually had an email waiting for me inviting all of us back for an overnight this summer. Now that’s generous. Truth is, that is probably exactly what we would need for Sam to be able to relax, and take it all in. His processor needs MORE time. This is very common in adoption. Transitions are hard. Transitions mean loss, like losing your birth mother. Losing a day of magic, an aquarium and the possibility, albeit fabricated of taking a trolley to the best playground ever is probably a comparable loss to a five-year old.  Loss is loss, Mom I can almost hear him saying.


  1. Cat, the experience of loss as difficulty in transitions is so real for adopted kids (and many others, I’m sure).

    When our daughter Yunhee (now 24) was in early elementary school, she had a miserable meltdown at the beginning of each new school year, longing for last year’s teacher, complaining that the new teacher was “mean,” having all kinds of difficulty.

    As she approached the start of third grade, the light bulb went off in my brain: this is about adoption and loss (Yunhee was adopted from Korea at 8 months). Before school started, we set up a meeting with the third grade teacher, Yunhee and me. With Yunhee’s permission, I explained that she often felt anxious at the beginning of a school year, then asked, had the teacher had other students who felt like this and did she have any ideas about how to address it?

    The teacher, bless her heart, said many students had a hard time at the beginning of the year and here were some solutions that had worked for others: 1. Move the student’s desk right next to the teacher’s for the first week or two. 2. A bunch of other suggestions I can’t remember.

    I turned to Yunhee, “What do you think?”
    “What was that desk thing again?” she asked.

    Yunhee sat with her desk attached to the teacher’s for the first two weeks of third grade. After that, she moved over with the rest of her classmates. No meltdown.

    From that point on, we strategized a plan for every major transition – each school year, summer camp, etc. – which consisted of identifying someone in the new situation who would be the “safe” person that Yunhee could attach to as she made her adjustment. We even did it her first year of high school.

    (As we approached her college transition and I was busily researching the campus for resources for students of color, she told me to back off. Mission accomplished.)

    • Annie-
      That is such a helpful story/historical over view of how the loss/transition drama plays and plays and plays itself out over and over. I will be bringing this up with Sam’s kindergarten teacher in the fall (!!!). I always appreciate how much you involve(d) your daughter in all of these conversations too.
      And thank you for the “this is going to be a book” post. I am working on a 24 hour period to write a draft of the proposal next month.

  2. Oy! Did you read my last entry? My son has been in tantrum mode all week. Your transition theory is so on target. Of course this pales in comparison, but Isaiah spent all last week home with Mommy and Daddy (and Grandma after we fled) because of all the snow. His behavior makes sense now. Going back to daycare messed with his whole world.

    • Tiara,
      I just read it. Oh you did not say “perfect”! Let me know when you say that again! I call the boys “thing 1” and “thing 2” and perfect nut jobs! It is Marcel’s turn next..

  3. Cat, tantrums are never unruly kids, and you know that because you protect sam from that way of thinking, so maybe it’s time for yourself to stop thinking about other people thinking it. triggers of complex emotions causing stress or fear, like overstimulation, transitions, will or can all bring on tantrums, either in kids or adults. adults have learnt coping behavior, they know when it is enough and how to find a better place to let our brain relax again.

    so, poor sam, he just couldn’t handle the overload. playgrounds help berg, over overstimulating things or places or people, running on the playground helps her calm her brain, it is a physical thing, the balancing and fast motion helps the brain to relax. when we went to the circus berg could do it until the break, then she cried in the car from absolute overstimulation, so we went to her playground to let her run & climb, and after a while she was fine again, able to continue her day. the playground, trampolines, horses, bicycles, it’s a combination of motion and balance.

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