I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that pretty much every mother knows the feeling.
Whether it’s the first day of daycare, preschool, kindergarten, or college, there’s an ache that comes when it’s time to walk away. Are they ready? Will they know what to do? Will they miss me?
I remember the first time I left my little one at daycare, nearly 11 years ago. I had clung to her almost obsessively for the first two years of her life. I had just landed a great part-time professional opportunity and was ready to get back in the swing of things, but a cloudy haze of postpartum depression and anxiety unknowingly loomed over me. Looking back, I can see how my depression manifested itself in an almost unnatural relationship with my daughter. I pushed everyone else away and made her the center of my world.
No wonder she cried when I dropped her off. I was all she ever knew.
When she needed to be held or comforted, it was me she turned to. Not my husband. Not our friends or family. ME.
And so when I accepted this job, I realized I would have to start pulling away a little bit. The only way I can describe it is like this: it felt like I was leaving a vital organ behind. We would no longer be tethered. It was like a deep grief that worsened when she cried at the doorway and tearfully waved goodbye to me. It was heartbreaking. The only thing that made my legs work was knowing she was in a clean, safe, fun environment with professionally trained caregivers. I held back tears and stopped in the main office before I left. I begged them to call me every hour with an update on how she was doing. They were nice, but not overly sympathetic to my emotional state. I knew she would be cared for, but I felt like I was falling apart.
When I finally got to my car and drove the 20 minutes to work, I cried the entire way. The roads were still unfamiliar to me in this strange new town. My tears made the signs blurry. It’s a wonder I didn’t get lost more often.
I cleaned myself up a bit before going into work. No one was the wiser. Within a matter of minutes, the center called. They emailed a picture of her laughing and playing with the other kids. The time stamp on the picture was 15 minutes after I’d left. She was doing fine.
A few weeks later, she skipped into her new “school” and searched for her friends and fell into the routine of coloring, dancing, and story time. It was a hard adjustment – but I often wonder if it was harder on me than her. I wish someone had told me back then that everything would be OK.
So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself crying in the parking lot this morning after dropping my youngest at PreK.
She had been very clingy this morning, as kids sometimes are. Not crying or upset, just needing some extra mom hugs, which I absolutely love and am happy to oblige. I grabbed my keys and yelled “It’s time to go!” She came down the stairs and into the kitchen carrying her doll in her arms. I could tell she had just dressed her and brushed her hair. Her baby, whom she named “Anya”, was all dressed and ready for school. Please can I bring Anya to school today?
Her school doesn’t do show and tell on a regular basis and toys from home are generally not allowed.
But something pulled at my heart and before I knew it, I said yes.
When we got off the elevator on the second floor of her school, we could hear the screaming from all the way down the long hallway leading to her classroom. One of her classmates was having a *really* hard morning. Crying – no, wailing. When we walked into the class, we saw the girl’s mom fighting back tears. The teacher had swooped in and was trying to comfort and reassure the little girl.
But the mom was left standing there.
Her face was red, a mix of embarrassment and desperation. Her eyes were watery, fighting to hold back the emotions. She put her hand to her mouth nervously and started to walk out. I squeezed her arm as she walked by and whispered, “You’ll be OK, she’ll be OK.”
And then I noticed that my daughter had walked over to the sobbing girl. She wanted to share her baby doll with this little girl to help her feel better. The doll that isn’t normally allowed in school, but on this day, was able to help this little girl calm down and even smile a little. My little one made a connection this morning.
And apparently so did I. When I left the classroom, I was a little teary too. I saw the mom talking with the school director and as I walked past, she squeezed my arm and whispered, “Thanks.” She couldn’t make eye contact. No doubt her vision was a little blurry, just like mine was on that day long ago.
And of course once I got to my car, I cried my little eyes out.