Bittersweet Progress: Overcoming Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety. It's a rite of passage for every new parent, I'm told. An excruciating, heartbreaking, dear-God-that-tearstained-face-will-haunt-me-for-the-rest-of-my-days gauntlet through which we all must pass before emerging on the other side, more independent (them) and relatively unscathed (us).
Lil' Bit was four months old when I first returned to work and, thus, started leaving her at daycare. Still too young to discern who was caring for her provided the tummy got fed and the diapers got changed, she seemed completely unfazed when I disappeared every morning. By the time she developed a sense of awareness, she was already quite attached to her two teachers in the infant room. She loved them, they loved her, and I loved that she was happy when I walked out the door each morning. It was one big lovefest. Group hug!
Even though I knew it was coming, I was saddened to learn just before Lil' Bit's first birthday that she would be moving to the toddler room. The transition took place over the course of one week, during which she progressively spent more time in her new environment and less in her old "safe" one. And it just happened to take place the week I had pneumonia. With The Hubs in charge of the daycare routine, I was at the mercy of his somewhat vague reports as to how the transition period was proceeding. I heard that it was "going great" and she was "doing well." And that's pretty much all I got. Why must men be so detail-challenged?
Given this, I'm not quite sure what I expected when I resumed daycare drop-offs the following week. But it sure as hell isn't what I got. As we entered the building that first morning back, Lil' Bit was her typically happy, giggly self. She was at school! Yay! We love school!!! But the minute we crossed the threshold into this new, less familiar room, she completely lost her shit.
Let me reiterate: Shit. Lost. Everywhere. And there I stood in the middle of it looking like a deer in the headlights and questioning - rather stupidly - "Oh no! What's wrong?!"
This went on for well over a week. And then there was an ever-so-slight improvement. But then came the holidays and a 10-day break from daycare while The Hubs and I enjoyed our respective winter breaks. And then we got to start all over again. From scratch.
I could often hear her screaming after I'd left the room. As I exited the building. And once, from the parking lot.
Not since last April when I first returned to work had I felt so completely wretched about leaving my kid at daycare. Not since April had I climbed into my car, put my head down on the steering wheel, and dissolved into quiet sobs. Not since April had my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest.
But it got better. Eventually, she only poked out a quivering bottom lip and looked generally unhappy when we entered the room; she didn't actually start to cry until I took off her coat and passed her to one of the teachers.
I considered this progress.
Then one day, I was able to buckle her into her little chair (she has her very own seat at the munchkin table - love!) and slip out unnoticed as she began to eat her breakfast. No tears. At all. Thank you, sweet Jesus.
The next day, I once again buckled her into her chair and began to walk away. All was going well until she turned to watch me go. And then the tears came.
So. The key was to creep out quietly. Unnoticed. Stealth-like. Yeah. Easier said than done. Sometimes it worked and I was able to go about my day guilt-free; other times, not so much.
Then suddenly, something changed. One particular morning, we entered the room and took off her coat as usual. I chatted with her teachers as I buckled her into her chair, noticing bananas and Cheerios on her plate. Two of her All-Time Favorites. She had noticed them too and was eyeing them hungrily, already reaching for the plate. I kissed her cheek, whispered, "Love you," and turned to walk away.
Halfway to the door, her head whipped around and that frank little gaze settled on me. I hesitated for a split second bracing myself, waiting for the face to crumple in panic and the tears to start flowing. But instead, she matter-of-factly turned back to her plate and kept eating.
It was a breakthrough. She was content. Comfortable with her surroundings. She was going to be OK without me. And she knew it.
I walked out of the room, hung up her coat, and turned to leave with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat. The smile for the progress we had made. The lump because it was bittersweet.
Kalexa blogs about everything from motherhood to stink bugs at her virtual mind dump, That's What She Said.