If you know my son at all, he doesn't respond well to new situations. He likes to know the schedule, the system, the plan, the options, the people, the places, the everything. If there's anything unknown, he gets frustrated which can easily turn into panic and then fight or flight. This pretty much dooms anything... new, like say, oh I don't know... maybe a vacation.
The first couple times, as a reasonable adult, the fear is understandable and easy to deal with. You go over the schedule. You walk the paths so he knows where everything is. You go over the schedule again. But eventually even the most patient mama bird has to start prodding the little ones out of the nest. Here at camp, there's a lot of unstructured free time. This leaves Habtamu with a lot of time to watch other people playing games, getting to know each other, having fun, etc... and he becomes unfillable. Whatever he's doing isn't as enjoyable as what those other kids are doing, especially when it's exactly what he thought he wanted to do. And that's when daddy gets irritable.
At one point, and honestly I don't even remember what the catalyst was, H slammed the door and went out in the hallway and started flicking the lights on and off. He hasn't done that particular combination at home for a long time, but it's his way of saying, “Come get me I'm inconsolable.” The problem is at that point he won't “find his center” and come back. He can't cool down and it escalates, usually in front of other people, until I intervene... which of course is really what he wants, he just ran out of other ways to say it. So attempting to nip this bud as quickly as possible I storm the hallway telling him in no uncertain terms to get away from the light-switch because there are sleeping babies close by. He says 'No!' but stops anyway. I grab for his wrist and try to make eye contact. Now, neither action is going to make the situation better but I know how this is going to play out and I just want it over. He pulls and tells me to let go, I twist his forearm and tell him to get it together (aren't I helpful when I'm angry?) and then there's a small pop in his arm. Now, when I say 'small pop' I mean like cracking knuckles pop, not shoulder dislocation pop although honestly if his arm would have come out of the socket at that moment I probably would have beat him with it. Usually he finds his growth-spurt crunchiness very amusing, and I knew instantly that there was no (real) damage done, but don't think for a moment that it would prevent him from dropping to the floor and writhing like a 2 year old. I, oh so helpfully, reminded him of the age he was acting, and dragged him back to the room where we could finish this without a conservative Christian audience or keeping those sleeping babies awake. [Side note from Chris: I also told him to keep it down because babies were sleeping. He said "No!" very angrily, but in a whisper.]
Once we got into the room, I tried something a little different. I normally keep him on my lap until he's done freaking or has cried it out, but the bunkbeds didn't exactly accommodate that. This time, I let him sit across from me almost immediately. I think it took more time because he didn't cry it out right away, but we eventually talked it through. I heard all about how there was nothing to do here, and how everybody else was having fun, and how he wanted to go home. He never did admit to me how scared he was and it still bugs me that he never really came to terms with that.
Usually with H, when it's over, it's over and you get a good solid hug and an earnest apology. This time I got a weak hug and the apology was more of a statement than an admission of guilt. I suspect though, it's because he's still afraid and really hadn't resolved those fears yet.
It wasn't until well after dinner that he got involved with some kids throwing a frisbee around and then a volleyball game. That's when we finally saw that big natural smile of his. An hour and a half after his normal bed time he came up to me sweating and grinning and said that maybe this place wasn't so bad after all. Maybe tomorrow he'll figure that out while it's still daylight...