Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Re-Entry Problems

We pulled into our driveway after a three-day visit to Maine, and Ethan's tears started. He didn't want to budge from the car.

"I...I miss my grandparents!!" he wailed.

For the first time in eight months, we'd headed up to Maine for a few days to visit with relatives. The kids love to stay at Dan's great-grandparents' house and have been doing so since, well, practically birth. I'd never seen this reaction before, though.

Inside the house, Ethan flung himself on the couch as I attempted to heave all of our bags in from the car. He continued to sob. "I don't know how to cheer up," he said, rubbing his eyes. "They are so miss-able." I handed him a picture of the great-grandparents that I had in a frame, but that only made things worse. "You know," he said wiping his eyes and his nose on his hands, "I don't only like this state. I like Maine, too."

I sat there and watched and thought of Sunday afternoons in Maine when I was a kid; the last day of vacation up at our camp not too far, actually, from where the great-grandparents' lived, although I of course didn't know them then. After we packed up the car and began driving down the winding dirt road and toward home, my tears would start. I felt overwhelmed by that very real sense of vacation is over...summer is ending...back to real life.

Some days back when I was pretty small, the melancholy feeling grew even worse as we drove down Interstate 95 in southern Maine. On summer Sundays when we'd drive home along with thousands upon thousands of other tourists, people would sometimes be standing on some of the highway overpasses, waving goodbye to all of the cars headed south. And my tears would start again.

I was back then, as Ethan was in front of me on the couch, having what my mom used to call "re-entry problems." Apparently it was something her dad used to say, when everyone got grouchy at the end of vacation. I'd compare it to that feeling on Sunday evenings, the time studies have found to be "the most depressing time of the week." You know that let-down feeling as you remember responsibilities and the work week ahead, and maybe about things you'd avoided thinking about to have fun over the weekend? Yeah, that.

Re-entry problems. Really, it's just another term for dealing with your emotions; for coping skills; for adjusting to a "shift in gears." Over the years I continue to realize how much of our living life well depends on not our smarts or talents but how we manage in situations when our emotions are tested.

I gave Ethan hugs. We said a prayer. I talked about ways he could distract himself and how he might feel better. While I hated to see him so miserable, it warmed my heart to see the love he holds for his great-grandparents.

He took their picture up to bed with him. The tears dried. Maine would be there waiting for him. That's what he will learn. Our days are filled with vacations and fun visits and amusement parks and beaches and the drudgery of chores and homework and winter and rainy days. And saying goodbye. Just like all of us, Ethan's got to learn, in his way, how to do life.

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