Sunday, March 7, 2010

Separation Anxiety

We're sitting on a bench at the exit of Sears eating the free popcorn that was handed to us on the way out. Lucas is tucked under my arm, inhaling the kernels and occasionally asking me to close my eyes so he can shove one in my mouth as a "surprise". We're watching this gorgeous mom bouncing her sweet baby girl decked out in a fuzzy pink sleeper.

"You know, you were that little once? Mommy used to put you in a carrier on my chest and you'd fall asleep while I walked around in the mall," I tell him.

He snuggles his head onto my stomach, closes his eyes, "Like this?"

"Yeah, like that," I say, then, "but sit up now, or you're going to choke on your popcorn."

I help him up, then fasten my arm securely around him again. I take a sip of my tea and try and access those dream-like memories of his infancy. They feel distant, yet are carved deeply in the fabric of my being, and I assume, his too. We spent his first 13 months attached together daily, after nine months of complete oneness. Two years of being so much a part of each other. Slowly, we've pulled away, with his toddler urge for independence and my desperate search for a renewed identity.

Still, it seems, there are times when we both hurt a little when we're apart. When things shift in our lives, we claw for the comfort of what's familiar and safe - each other. Now that we've moved house and school, he is less interested in independence, and cries instead, "help me, help me." When I put him down to sleep, he negotiates, "sleep with me, lay with me, ten minutes, five minutes, one more minute," until I usually fall asleep beside him. But the hardest part, for both of us, is leaving him at his new school.

"I no like school!" he yells, as I lift him out of his car seat in the parking lot.

"I know, it's hard to go to a new school."

"I kick the school! I push it down!" he screams.

I take his hand and we walk towards the gate. "Should we look for worms?" I ask, attempting distraction. We walk head down stopping at every stick and crack in the pavement to examine if it's a worm like the one we saw his first day at school.

But when we get to the door, he sees through my diversion and makes a run for it. He is across the courtyard and I am standing there dumb-founded. I want to let him run it off, but I also know this can't be allowed. I have to "be the parent" so I implement the "counting-to-three" method. "Mommy's going to count to three, and you need to come hold my hand, or I'm going to pick you up and bring you in." I count very slowly with a threatening voice and it works, for some reason.

Once inside the cloakroom, he throws a fit like a wild animal. No wonder - I've trapped him and he is helpless to do anything but scream and head to the door again. I pull his jacket off and runners, despite his attempts to hang onto them and feel like some kind of jailer. I hand him his slippers and he bites them to show me his anger. Tears are streaming down his red face, and I have no choice but to put up a wall or I will join him with my own tears.

I physically lift him inside to the classroom. The teachers ask the other children to go back to what they are doing and let Lucas be.

"Can you stay with me?" he cries, knowing he is defeated.

"Just for a minute, honey," I say, knowing it will be better when I am gone.

"You stay with me for one minute," he says, holding up his pointer finger, his sobs quieting.

"Hi Lucas!" the teacher says. "Will you help me open the window?"

He climbs up eagerly and undoes the latch and opens it. Then he realized he's opened to window where he'll have to wave bye to me.

"I want a kiss and hug!" he yells and starts crying again. I pull him close, give him several hugs and kisses, then pull away. "I want another one!" I give in. I will stand there all day, I think, and I don't care.

The teacher whispers to me, in all kindness. "As soon as you go, he calms down. We always go find the ladder after you leave. Don't worry." I know this is true because I stand outside and listen.

"Mommy has to go to work," I say.

"I want to go to work with you," he says. This is a first, and I think I might crumble again. I picture him in the corner of my office, drawing with my highlighters.

"I have to go," I say, firmly this time. "Say goodbye to Mommy now. Let's see if we can touch fingers through the window." I tear myself away despite his cries for another kiss and hug then race around to the outside.

The teacher has him sticking his pointer finger through one of the bars in the window. I touch it with mine and make a buzzing sound. "Okay, you have a good day! Bye!" I say cheerily then turn and walk, without looking back. I hear him crying and then I don't, and then allows me to go on.

Sitting in my car, I dial Hubby's cell phone. He's in class but I feel relief downloading onto his voicemail. I start the engine, drive to work, unsurprised by familiar thoughts entering my mind. Maybe I should find a job that has less hours. Maybe I should try and work from home. Maybe I should....

But I know, after all the agonizing I did when we first started him in daycare, that it will get better with time, and my imagining my career on hold will not fix anything. I figured out last time that I am not myself without my work, so staying at home with him is not really a better child care option. I know it's a good school, with good families, and good teachers, who have mountains more patience than me. But I know too, because of my decision to go to work and put him in full-time daycare, that he is hurting, and that makes me hurt for him.

The next day, I bribe him with chocolate eggies to go into the school without having a fit. It's a bad-mother moment, for sure. But tears are replaced by smiles and I leave feeling guilty, but not helpless. And on the weekend, I make sure we spend "quality" time together. We go to community events, go shopping together, play outside together, and eat free popcorn at Sears together. It makes this transition hurt less for me, so all I can hope is that it does the same for him.


Krista said...

Wow Liesl, this entry is powerful. Thanks for sharing it. It is such an eloquent portrayal of the struggle many of us live with. To work or not to work, finding the balance between what we want and what we need, figuring out our own identity aprt from career woman, wife and mother. WOW. WOW.

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