The initial signs of her wish to regress came from our first few shopping trips together. There was a complete fascination with the baby aisle. Bottles, nappies, baby food and baby bath products. Just touching the stuff and looking at the pictures of babies.
This progressed into “playing” babies which involved me treating her as if she were much younger. At five she would instruct me on what constituted the right way to look after a baby. Never a complete surrender of her control but safety behind her precise instructions.
It made immediate sense to me and I remembered some of the preparation training I had which spoke of stages of missed development and building blocks. Fragile foundations.
I have to admit it felt a little strange and uncomfortable to me treating a five year old like a baby but I also felt she needed it. It was soothing to her alongside baby style bath times with baby products and toys.
In fact these games constituted the only time she would be soothed and calm, with most other times like living with a street cred’ Mowgli on amphetamines. Jumping, shouting, climbing, punching, biting, crying, laughing, spitting. There were no social niceties no matter where we were or who was present. Attention! Attention!
I realised we would have to move through the baby stage and made the instinctive decision to buy a tipi from a maker in Wales (bear with me). The journey to get it was one of our first ever long trips away from home and was fraught with the incidents that unfamiliar surroundings bring in the early days. The most spectacular attention event was her running away from me and fully clothed into the sea on a snowy winter morning. Woolly gloves, bobble hat and all. Her lips went blue and people tut tutted.
Safely back at home and safely off the roof rack, I persuaded a very kind and generous gentleman we knew to let us put the tipi, all fifteen feet of it, on his farm land in the woods. It was safely near where we lived and we could get there in five minutes. Nobody could see or hear us and it allowed us to spend endless days with no distractions.
The regression for us was going back to nature. Blocking out TV, music, noise, shops, new people, neighbours, cars, school. In their place we bought in trusted friends, pants and vests, eating with fingers from the barbecue, drinking out of bottles, fires, snoozing under canvas, mud and climbing trees.
During one of our first visits she led me in a play about how I find a fairy child curled up asleep in the woods under a tree. I would have to express shock at finding her and pick her up and “save” her. It always made me think of the myths of storks and gooseberry bushes. It also made me sad.
After a while though, this freedom to play in the woods bought opportunities to let go of her anxiety and allow the constant drip drip of adrenalin to subside. It was simple and basic and safe. I felt it allowed her to think clearly, which allowed her to express herself safely through play, both happy and sad. It also set her up for life to access free of charge and healthy self soothing.
To this day if things are teenage tough, a camping trip, a walk in the woods, a swim in a river or even some quite time under a tree can bring a new perspective and a calmness that is priceless.
I truly believe that for some children regressing by going back to nature can unscramble and redirect basic instincts of fight and flight.
Recently there was some discussion in our house and with fellow mums about the distasteful description of traumatised children as feral. This word conjures up thoughts of all the wrong kinds of wildness and it does a disservice to the instinctual and often wise strategic behaviours of those children who have had to learn to survive loss, chaos and lack of control.
To return to basics, go back to nature, into the wilderness, back to the beginnings of life itself can, for some, have a healing and uplifting effect.
(And of course, there’s nobody tut tutting, and the ketchup falls on the earth not the carpet, and the phone doesn’t ring, and the cats can relax at home, and the trees get climbed not the sofa, and only the pants and vest get ripped, and uptight mother can stop worrying about what the neighbours think of all the noise……….)