Last Wednesday I Returned to Work Full Time. Which means it was also the start of Full Time Daycare for the Peanut.
On day one of Daycare, the Peanut first clung to my leg, but then quickly got distracted by a new toy. I was the one with separation anxiety. I walked around all day feeling like . . . it sounds cliché, but like I had a hole in my chest. I felt gutted and empty. Depressed. But I actually managed to not cry. I thought this was a success.
And then I went to pick the Peanut up at the end of the day. She had refused to nap. She was red-eyed and clearly exhausted, the picture of pitiful. Her day had clearly been just as rough as my own. But still, I held it together. I gathered her up in my arms and she rubbed her face on my shoulder. I put my nose to her neck and sniffed, smelling her babyness. It must be one of those primal things, left over from when we were animals. A mother identifies her baby by smell. Because I notice instantly.
She smells different. I never truly noticed her smell until this moment. I must have just smelled something of myself in her before, which made it sweet but unremarkable to me. What I smell now is her daycare provider. Her daycare provider’s lotion. Her daycare’s hand soap. And here’s where the day catches up with me. Here’s where I finally come undone.
I sob on the drive home, cursing bank accounts, student loan creditors, and all the other practicalities that demand I return to work. I regret every time I told someone, “You know, I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to work.” This is wrong. This was a mistake. How did I ever get used to this with Ms. B.?
On day two of Daycare, our morning goes smoothly and the Peanut again easily becomes engrossed in play with a new toy. Separation is harder for me than it is for her. At work I’m actually so busy I simply don’t have the time to devote to wallowing in my separation anxiety. When I go to pick her up, she’s again refused to nap all day, is again clearly exhausted. But she’s also in reasonably good spirits (even with no naps). I can almost think, “It’s an adjustment period, but we’ll get there.”
On day three of Daycare the Peanut comes home with a runny nose. Fantastic.
Over the weekend the Peanut demonstrates what else she has brought home from Daycare this week: a high-pitched blood curdling scream. On Friday night, when the Peanut gives her first performance of The Scream, D and I just look at each other with wide eyes. “That’s new,” we both say. By Sunday evening, after The Scream has had numerous repeat showings, D says, “I’m going to teach her how to bite the kid who taught her how to do that.”
On day four of Daycare, after a weekend of lots of snuggles (and naps!), the Peanut is tightly hugging my shoulder as we walk into Daycare. She starts to whimper as I set down her bag, her little fingers tightening into a death grip. It becomes a full-fledged cry as I try to lower her to the floor. She tries to scale my face in an effort to get to the top of my head. Maybe her rationale is that the top of my head is the furthest from the floor? Maybe it’s that once she’s up there I just might forget about her and won’t leave her in This Place. Instead I’ll just take her to work with me, completely unaware of her presence, thinking I’ve just chosen a particularly heavy hat today.
Her strategy doesn’t work, of course. I peel her off my face and leave her writhing in her daycare provider’s arms, crying “Mama, Mama, Mama,” over and over and over. It’s the Peanut’s first real bout of separation anxiety. The Daycare calls me later in the morning to tell me she just cried for a minute or two and then was fine. I can hear the Peanut babbling happily in the background. “See,” they say,” Can you hear that?” Fine? I remain unconvinced.
On day five of Daycare, the Peanut repeats her separation anxiety demonstration when I go to drop her off. This time her strategy is to press herself as close to my body as possible. I have to unfold her fingers one by one from the collar of my shirt so that I can leave. “This is just a phase,” I try to reassure myself. “This won’t be your every morning.”