There is an essay in Brain, Child from Summer 2006 (available online as of today) called Mommy Comes Back.
I think most mothers who have dropped children off at daycare have gone through similar routines. The crying, the ‘but mommy, I want to stay with you’, the unexpected eruptions from children you thought were over it.
One of the things that bothered me, every single day, was that Captain Adventure never got over it. From the first day to the last, he has resisted being left at daycare with every fiber of his being.
I was positively arrested by this part of the article: Unconvinced, he clamps his body around mine, ignoring Gracie's offer of Kipper's Sticky Paws. More children arrive. More mothers depart. Harry and I remain, frozen in our embrace.
This is exactly what I’ve been going through with Captain Adventure, with the intensity steadily increasing. What used to be ‘mere’ fussing has turned into outright clinging, to the point where I have to enlist a teacher to help peel him off me, every single morning.
And this after ten, fifteen, twenty minutes of just crouching on the floor trying to allow him to acclimate, get interested in toys or friends, start following the lead of the pack of toddlers in the room.
Captain Adventure is not a follower – and he does not want his momma to leave.
Every day is just the same. We arrive at daycare, babbling and singing. He cheerfully pushes the buttons on the keypad at the door as we go in.
We drop Boo Bug off in her room. She goes cheerfully, with barely even a backward glance. She has an extensive social life that needs tending, friends to gather with, clothing to check out, art to do…a very busy day ahead.
And then it starts.
His arm goes around my neck and holds tightly as we walk to his classroom. I try to set him down. He clings more tightly to me, desperately. If he can manage it, he puts his legs around me as well – literally clinging with every limb he has.
Other parents come, and go. We remain, crouching tensely together. I try to get him interested in toys, or snack, or art.
He smiles at me. It isn’t a happy smile. It’s a frantic one. It’s begging for reassurance. You aren’t leaving me, right?
All of my children had phases of separation anxiety. Shoot, Boo Bug started putting on a bit of a show a couple weeks ago, bursting into tears at the door and acting quite bereft as I walked away. It lasted a couple days, and then she was bored with that act and moved on.
Only Captain Adventure has taken it to this degree – for twelve long months, he has resisted being dropped off. He holds onto me for all he’s worth. As soon as I get one hand off me, the other claps back on. He wraps his fists in my hair, clamps his legs around mine. He seldom cries anymore. Instead, he smiles, stares up at me with wide, intense eyes, silent and frantic, and holds me for all he’s worth.
He drops to the floor as I leave, taking with me the knowledge of his unhappiness and despair. I tell him, I’ll be back, honey.
I say, Mommy always comes back.
It’s OK, baby. I say, as a teacher helps wrench his hands off me, helps me untangle his legs from around me. You play with your friends while I work, and I’ll be back soon.
He looks at me with those big, miserable eyes, and I honestly don’t know if he understands. Sometimes I’m sure he does; sometimes I’m sure he doesn’t. And I curse his speech delay, and my inability to communicate with him with words. I’ve taken for granted the ability to reason with even my very young children. Words provide great power when it comes to comforting our young; his speech delay robs us of that, leaves me with nothing but notoriously faulty intuition to tell me whether or not he’s really suffering or merely peeved.
He will sometimes go all day without uttering a single sound, I’ve been told. Or cry for hours. Or simply go off by himself and play quietly, ignoring the other children, just waiting.
Waiting for mommy to come back.
And then, when I arrive to pick him up, he runs to me giggling and shrieking, tries to climb up me like a jungle gym. He throws himself into my arms, turns and waves. “BYE BYE!” he’ll shout, beaming delightedly at the same teachers he has not even made direct eye contact with all day. “BYE BYE!!”
Then he buries his face in my neck, strokes my hair, pats my back, yells, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” in my ear.
He came to me today with a book. He took the knitting from my hands and set it carefully into the basket, muttering, “’Er i-go” (there you go). He climbed onto my lap and pressed his face against my neck for a moment, then turned around, pushed the book into my hands and waited for the story. He looked up at me with such happy eyes…I am yours and you are mine…hold me, read to me, love me, tell me how special I am!
I held him and thought, I don’t have to drop you off anywhere like that again for a long time.
And it made me so happy I could have cried.
It has been hard for both of us, all this long year. We’ve both suffered separation anxiety.
I won’t mind not doing it to either of us for a long time to come.
I won't mind even a little, tiny bit.
NASA, Cocoa Beach and points north
2 months ago