Evelyn, a widowed mom, begins to suspect something is wrong when her five-year-old son has difficulty adjusting to daycare. Her suspicions are confirmed when she arrives there early and finds him locked up.
“You’re gonna have so much fun at daycare, Evelyn,” smiled as she placed a bowl of oatmeal before young Jason.
“When they sing my song?” Jason asked.
“I’m sure they will, honey. I think they take turns to sing everyone’s favorite song, and you’ll learn lots of new songs too,” Evelyn replied.
Jason frowned, and the nervousness Evelyn was working so hard to hide kicked up a gear. Like every mother, she wanted her child’s first day at daycare to go perfectly, but Evelyn had doubts. Jason could be very sensitive and pedantic about things like his favorite song. He also didn’t cope well when life surprised him.
“Why don’t we sing your favorite song in the car on the way to daycare?” Evelyn asked. “That way, you’ll get a chance to sing it every day, okay, Mom?”
Jason grinned, and Evelyn breathed a sigh of relief. She wouldn’t worry so much, but this was a big change for Jason. It was a big change for her too, and part of her grief for the shift in her husband’s death had forced on her and Jason’s lifestyle.
While the other children ran around the daycare playground, Jason traced his fingers over the colorful mosaics decorating the wall as Evelyn spoke to his teacher, Kara.
“He gets overwhelmed sometimes when too much is happening at once. I find it’s best to get him to lie down in a quiet area when that happens,” Evelyn said. “Also, he doesn’t like the color lime green at all. He won’t touch anything that color.”
“Don’t worry,” Kara smiled reassuringly. “We have what we call a calm corner for kids who get overwhelmed. We have some stuffed toys in there and a bottle of glitter and non-toxic liquid. We shake up the bottle and ask the kids to watch it. It does the trick every time.”
“That’s great,” Evelyn replied. She had doubts about this method, but surely the teacher knew best.
Evelyn needed to get back to work soon, so she said goodbye to Jason, and he immediately burst out crying. Jason clung to her leg like a bird.
“I’m not going home now, champ. I’m going to work,” Evelyn said, leaning over to rub Jason’s back. “I know this is hard, but please be brave enough to try. I just know you’re gonna make lots of friends here, but you have to give it a chance.”
Evelyn drove to work with tears in her eyes. No amount of coercion had convinced Jason to release her, and eventually, Cara had to help her pry the child off her leg as if he’d never see her again. It left Evelyn traumatized, and she was sure Jason felt the same.
Evelyn could barely concentrate on her work. All she thought about was the desperate sorrow on Jason’s face when she turned away and left him. The sound of his heaving sobs echoed in her head.
When she left her desk to take her lunch break, Evelyn called the school to check on her son. Her heart dropped when the woman she spoke to told her Jason was still crying. The lady tried to reassure her that some children took longer to adjust than others, but the words felt hollowed to Evelyn. All she could think of was her heartbroken child.
The situation didn’t improve over the following days. Every morning, getting Jason into the car to go to daycare became more challenging. He would tell her that his ankle hurt or his stomach
hurt, or he locked his arms around the staircase railing and refused to let go. Mornings were rapidly becoming a nightmare of stress and chaos for mother and son.
The weekend arrived just in time to give Evelyn a break from their awful morning routine. The pair spent most of Saturday morning cuddled up on the couch, watching cartoons. In the afternoon, Evelyn took Jason out for ice cream. On Sunday, Evelyn prayed that the following week would be better for her son. She could never have thought that the worst was still to come.
“I don’t understand why you hit that boy, Jason,” Evelyn glanced at her son in the rearview mirror. His eyes were puffy from crying. “You know we never hit other people.”
“His green hands, Mom,” Jason let out a heartbreaking sob.
Evelyn didn’t know what to make of that. Nothing Kara had told her added up with Jason’s garbled version of events. “What was green, Jason?” Evelyn asked. “I don’t understand.”
“Did he have something green on his hands? Paint?” Jason’s green with rage and started banging his head against the backseat.
Evelyn glanced back and forth between the road ahead and her son in the backseat, but Jason was inconsolable. Evelyn tried singing his favorite song, but it didn’t make any difference. When they got home, he ran to his room, climbed into the closet with his stuffed giraffe, and stayed there until dinner.
As she watched Jason eat his macaroni and cheese one noodle at a time, Evelyn wondered if something was wrong with her son. Maybe the daycare wasn’t as great as it seemed. Perhaps something happened there that would explain Jason’s reluctance to return.
Evelyn decided to fetch Jason early from daycare the next day. She knew something was wrong the moment she climbed out of the car. Jason was screaming. Evelyn ran into the building; the lady in the front room tried to stop her, but Evelyn didn’t even break her stride. She followed the sound of her son’s screams, which were punctuated by a metallic rattle.
Tara filled Evelyn’s heart as the sounds grew louder. Where was her baby? More staff had appeared. Now, one of the teachers grabbed at her arm, but Evelyn shook the man off. She dashed down the corridor and was overcome with rage at what she saw there.
Jason had his fingers hooked through the bars of a gate closing off one of the rooms. Instead of a door, he was red in the face and constantly screamed while he tugged on the door to free himself.
“What the hell have you done to my son?!” Evelyn roared as she rounded on the staff gathered by the door. “Let him out of here immediately!”
“This isn’t as bad as it looks, Mrs. Madison,” the male teacher who grabbed her earlier stepped forward with a bunch of keys. “We did this to protect him. You’re gonna need protection from me if you don’t free him!” Evelyn balled her hands into fists. There was no limit to what she tried to do to protect her son, no line she wouldn’t cross.
“He was trying to escape the daycare,” the male teacher explained. “When Jason was free, he got his head stuck in the bars of the security gate and scraped his ear. One of our helpers took him to the calm corner, but he hit her with a glitter bottle and nearly pulled a bookcase down on both of them. We put him in here because we didn’t know what else to do.”
Tears spilled from Evelyn’s eyes as she looked down at her son. He’d stopped screaming when she lifted him into her arms, but he was sucking his thumb now something he hadn’t done in years, and moaning softly. Although it had been a shock to see him locked up, she understood now that the staff did the best they could in the circumstances.
“I think we need to sit down,” Kara stepped forward and put a hand on Evelyn’s elbow. “Please come with me to the office.”
Evelyn sat down with Kara in the office and drank a glass of water. She was distraught and didn’t know what to do anymore. Jason is having a rough time adjusting to daycare, Kara,” Evelyn said. “I’d hoped it would improve over time, but I think now that we may need to tackle this in a more structured way.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, could you tell me what daily life was like for Jason before he started daycare?” Kara asked.
Evelyn sighed. Jason had passed out, known as growing heavy in her arms. She gently adjusted his position and told Kara how she’d been a stay-at-home mom until her husband died in a work accident. Fresh tears coursed down her cheeks as she confessed she didn’t know what to do anymore.
“I know it’s hard, Evelyn, but I want to help you,” Kara leaned forward in her chair. “I’ve worked with kids for a long time, and I have some ideas we can try to help Jason. I’m willing to try anything.”
Evelyn replied, “First of all, I’d like to arrange for the psychologist we work with to meet Jason. There may be other factors at work here that need attention, and she could provide us with guidance. Next, I think it would help Jason if we let him get to know his classmates in a more comfortable setting.”
Evelyn frowned, “How do we do that?”
Kara smiled, “I know it sounds simple, but I think it will help Jason if some of the kids in his class visit my home. It’s a safe and familiar place for him, and we’ll keep the group small. What do you think?”
“It’s worth a shot,” Evelyn said. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
“There are nine other children in Jason’s class,” Kara explained. “I think we should arrange for three or four of them to visit Jason on a Saturday afternoon. I can be there to help out, and we can invite the parents too. That way, there will be plenty of adult supervision, but the kids will still have space to play with each other, like a small party.”
Evelyn thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “That sounds great.”
That Saturday, Evelyn and Jason decorated their home with balloons and streamers. Evelyn helped Jason choose which toys to keep out to share with his guests and which ones he wanted to pack away. Kara arrived around midday with snacks for the children.
Evelyn sat on her back porch an hour later, watching Jason and the other children race around the yard. They devised a complex game where every time someone was tagged, they had to switch toys with the child who tagged them. A few arguments broke out, but mostly the children were happy. Their laughter echoed around the yard and brought smiles to the adults’ faces. It turned into a great day for everyone.
The following day, Evelyn was woken by Jason’s small hand patting her cheek. Evelyn squinted at her son through sleepy eyes. “Are you excited to see your friends again, champ?”
“I am, I am!” Jason beamed down at her as he jumped up and down.
Evelyn got dressed and ready for the day. Over the following weeks, Kara and Evelyn ensured that Jason spent time with all his classmates. It made a massive difference in his attitude towards daycare and helped him at home too. As he socialized more, Evelyn noticed that Jason seemed to find it easier to cope with the challenges of daily life, like encounters with the color lime green or baths that weren’t the perfect temperature.
The psychologist they had consulted provided valuable insights into Jason’s behavior. Through therapy sessions, they discovered that Jason had developed anxiety and a fear of being separated from his mother after the loss of his father. The sudden change of starting daycare had intensified these feelings, leading to his difficulties in adjusting.
Armed with this understanding, Evelyn and Kara worked closely together to create a personalized plan for Jason’s transition. They implemented strategies to gradually increase his comfort level at daycare, such as shorter initial hours, frequent check-ins, and providing a transitional object from home. The teachers also made a conscious effort to create a nurturing and supportive environment for Jason.
As time went on, Evelyn saw improvements in Jason’s demeanor. He became more willing to participate in activities, interact with his peers, and gradually let go of his fear of separation. The playdates organized by Kara played a significant role in fostering positive relationships among the children in Jason’s class. They built trust and familiarity, making the transition to daycare smoother for everyone involved.
Evelyn continued to communicate openly with the daycare staff, sharing her observations and concerns, while they provided ongoing support and feedback. It was a collaborative effort that focused on meeting Jason’s individual needs and helping him develop the necessary skills to thrive in a social setting.
Months passed, and Evelyn was amazed at the progress her son had made. Jason no longer cried or resisted going to daycare in the mornings. Instead, he greeted his friends and teachers with enthusiasm, ready to engage in new adventures and learning experiences.
Evelyn’s heart swelled with pride as she watched Jason grow and overcome his initial struggles. The daycare had become a place of joy and learning for him, a space where he felt safe and supported. It was a testament to the resilience of both mother and son, their unwavering love and determination to navigate through life’s challenges together.
With time, Jason’s newfound confidence extended beyond the daycare walls. He began to embrace new experiences, showing a curiosity and eagerness to explore the world around him. Evelyn knew that there would still be ups and downs along the way, but she was filled with hope and optimism for Jason’s future.