I started taking my daughter to day-care when she was eight months old. My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to keep her with me at work until that point (I work and lived in a National Park so my husband stayed with her next door to the office). Like most parents, I was wrought with anxiety about what impact I was making on her by leaving her at such a young age. Would she feel abandoned? Would our bond be diminished? Would she attribute all future misbehaviours to this event? I have no way of knowing. One of my co-workers who stayed home with her now fully-grown children said they were no different from their friends who had working moms.
To add to my discomfort with the decision, every time I left her at daycare, she would scream and cry and look at me with tear-brimming cuteness, making it almost harder for me than for her. Although I was assured by her caretakers that she soon calmed after I left, my heart and mind constricted with worry and sadness as I would turn my back on my child. This became a game, how could I figure out how to leave my child as painlessly as possible? I refused to sneak off, knowing that finding me missing would be much more deceitful and scarring than if I told her I was leaving and waved goodbye to let her know I was still alive, still going to be there for her. Instead, I would spend half an hour, holding and nursing her, gradually introducing the environment each time again and inviting her to join the other kids.
We started out just doing daycare once a week with a group, the other days being left to my mother to take care of my daughter in our own home. A month later we moved to two days a week with a friend and her infant son who stayed at our house with her. Two months ago we started taking her to a daycare with four kids, three days a week and one morning with a group of babies. I noticed a shift a month later in how we were interacting.
Monday morning, June 15th started off rockier than usual. I was not feeling well and none of us had slept too much over the weekend. We were late for daycare and I was tired. In a less than gentle fashion, I got together the days' equipment and dressed my daughter. She was not as cooperative as normal and I resorted to not engaging with her while she cried and threw a tantrum, scratching at my face. As I cursed my husband silently for leaving the entire morning routine to me, I counted down the minutes until I could leave her with her care-takers. When we arrived, she had stopped crying but she was sullen as I carried her inside. Within five minutes she reached out to Jenna, the young woman who takes care of her, and barely said goodbye to me as I waved to her. The next morning was much less painful and yet she still seemed perfectly fine with my leaving without the half-hour drop-off routine.
Two days later she went to her babies' morning group. We walked in and within five minutes (while I was still holding her), she turned to me and waved. "Bye-bye" she said. "Ok," I said, a little shocked that she was informing me I wasn't needed anymore. I prolonged it a little, making sure she had not mistakenly made the gesture to me. "Bye-bye Sweety, I love you!" I bent down for a last kiss then waved and blew kisses as I exited the baby room. She waved and blew kisses back, certain in her decision to dismiss me.
While on the one hand I felt triumphant, neither she nor I were torn to pieces by a painful separation, I also felt for the first time the longing for our close bond that is beginning to move apart. Parents have warned me of the day when your child does not want anything to do with you. She's not there yet but I feel it beginning and all of a sudden I want back the screaming and crying for comfort only I can give. I want to feel needed and loved. Luckily I still have that most of the time, this morning was just a glimpse and a reminder to cherish my daughter in a changing phase.