For months I’d worried that he wasn’t ready. I felt torn and guilty — how could I do this to my baby?
No, I wasn’t sending my not yet two-year-old Mama’s Boy off to Siberia or boarding school, but to a morning daycare program at the university where Neil and I teach. Logically, I knew there was no reason to worry. The daycare program here is a gem — the kind of place where they make their own Play-Doh, where each child brings in a fruit to share with classmates for snack time, and where several languages are spoken as university kids tend to come from all over the world. There are wooden toys and an outdoor play area, and two kind and wise no-nonsense teachers who have been heading this particular program for two decades. But emotionally, I just didn’t know if my M.B. was ready to head off into the world without me.
Not to say I’ve been velcroed to M.B. for the past twenty months — he has had a babysitter anywhere from six to ten hours a week, and a very involved father with a flexible enough schedule to occasionally contribute some weekday childcare. But, for the most part, I have been my boy’s companion as he explores his new and ever fascinating world. We’ve swam in streams and swimming pools, me holding on tight to my tadpole, and we’ve taken expeditions by stroller, car, bus, and foot. I’ve been on the other side of the slide when he’s glided — or plummeted — down, on the receiving end of both tears and hugs. I’ve been the one to take him to music class or the playground at our nearby community center, for new sneakers or for pizza. And when I wasn’t the one — when M.B. instead spent a morning with his energetic and delightful babysitter (a college student at the university), or even when M.B. was with his very own father during the week, I’d feel equal parts relieved to have time to get some work done and very, very, very guilty.
This was more than a little bit crazy. Where did I get the idea I had to be with my M.B. every minute of the day? What about my friends who had to go back to work six weeks or six months after having their children? Really, I was out of this world lucky. I’m the Hannah Montana of moms with the best of both worlds — the chance to be at home with my child and continue on with my career, too. But instead I just felt pulled in two directions every minute of the day. I’d wake up and nurse M.B., hurriedly pack his diaper bag, give him breakfast, dress him, then hand him off to the babysitter so I could work for three hours — all the while wishing I was the one on the walk with my child. But on the days I did have M.B. all day long I’d end up with a headache many evenings from trying to cram in writing a book or grading student essays during naptime or once M.B. was sleeping.
I figured that this would only get worse when M.B. went to morning daycare. The guilt! The missing him! The ambivalence! And what about M.B.? Would he cry, sob, kick and scream for his mommy to return? Was I making a huge mistake? Was I a terrible mother?
Just two weeks into September and I can report an unequivocal answer to the aforementioned worries: no, no, no. No guilt. No ambivalence. Just one very grateful mother who finally has the chance to take a shower in the morning, get some work done, and maybe even fit in my meditation and yoga practice before pick-up time at 12:30. And, equally important, one toddler who couldn’t be more ecstatic to spend his mornings in a wonderland of indoor and outdoor play, stories, snacks, and new friends. At the child-care center, his teachers had M.B. on a two-week “gradual immersion” plan. The idea was that he’d spend time with Mommy and/or Daddy at the center while slowly acclimating to being dropped off. To our surprise, by day three M.B. was ready to be there on his own. He happily waved goodbye and toddled off to play and explore. In the mornings he calls his teacher’s name out from the kitchen during breakfast and can’t wait to take the bus to campus with his father. He loves his teacher already, and claps his hands and positively yelps with joy and excitement at the prospect of heading to school.
There was a reason I wanted to be with M.B. as much as I could. I wanted — I want — to create a solid base for him of love, and yes, thanks to my Dr. Sears library of baby books, attachment. I want him to feel so grounded in safety, security, and acceptance from his Mommy that he can go out there and climb up the playground structure, put his bum on the slide, and 1-2-3 slide down without anyone at all to catch him on the other side. I want my M.B. to have a built-in emotional security blanket, the kind I didn’t get in my childhood and have had to piece together myself as an adult. Still, it’s been a tiring two years. At 37, I don’t have quite the energy I might have had at 25 to burn the Mommy and career candles at both ends. And I am grateful to have some time now to go ever so much more slowly. Mostly, I am happy and relieved that M.B. is feeling ready to be just a little bit independent.
In the early afternoons, I pick M.B. up and we head home for lunch and a nap, and then our own private story time and adventures with our dog in the backyard or on a neighborhood walk. Having had the morning to myself, I’m not distracted by work, or as exhausted as before. Maybe M.B. picks up on this and my ability to focus in on him more when we’re together. I plan on keeping him home with me one morning a week so we can stroller over to music class at the community center, put some time in at the playground, or take the bus to our neighborhood children’s museum.
No, it’s not the same. But that’s okay. Even now at home working as M.B. plays at “school” I feel the strength of the invisible umbilical cord connecting us, just as strongly as when he was growing inside me.