Starting in January, we were allowed occasional visits to my son's new, upcoming daycare as long as I remained with him. I would take him and stand apart to observe how he played and explored his new environment. With each visit he seemed to grow more comfortable with the place and the number of other little people, the concepts of sharing, waiting a turn. Our initial visits were brief: perhaps an hour, no more than two, each time. I could sense that, though he was fine to go off and play without the interaction he was used to from me at home, there was a subtle "checking in" every so often. He would get lost in play but a glance would be thrown my way to ensure I was near and accessible.
Driven crazy by daycare
I thought he was adjusting admirably. My mistake was the February visits became much more frequent such that he became used to my presence there with him. There I was, patting myself on the back like a fool counting her eggs, believing the transition to fulltime was flowing as smoothly as possible. By the first day I returned to work fulltime (March 1), he was in shock that I would not be spending the 8 hours with him.
I began to measure his growing acceptance of this fact by where/when he'd begin to cry during the dropoff stage. At the beginning, he'd wail when I put him in the car on our driveway in the mornings. Slowly, I could get him in the seat tearless, but when we parked outside the daycare, he'd burst. Eventually I could park and he'd wait until he was inside the actual doors. Then a few mornings, we made it as far as down the hallway before the act of removing his coat in front of his cubby brought on Niagara Falls. On other rare occasions, I could get him all the way into the actual room before the waterworks.
What put my heart through the ringer most mornings was the fact that, in the face of his howling sobs and upstretched arms and the cries of "Maaammmmmmmmaaaaaaa", I had read in the literature that you, as the parent, are encouraged to keep a 'happy countenance' as you drop your child off so that she/he doesn't sense any worry on YOUR part about leaving her/him there for the day.
Now, I am a trained actor. In addition to four years of university training and various subsequent workshops and seminars, I've had a good amount of theatre and film experience. I further auditioned for the Royal National Theatre's Summer Programme in London, England, a programme which auditions in five cities in the States and two cities in Canada for a mere 30 spots each summer, and I got in and garnered some incredible training in that programme.
But I can say without hesitation that doing a tapdance with a big smile on my face while choking back my own tears and burying the deeply ingrained desire to grab hold of my reaching Sonshine and run out of that daycare with him every morning in some mad embrace, wild and happy once again, to the freedom and luxury of time we've had for close to two years was the most demanding acting job I've ever had.
My friend, Karl, tried to console me with "in a few weeks, you'll show up and he'll be totally indifferent to your presence and not want to leave what he's doing there and that will hurt even more." Damn you, Karl, for being spot on.
But just as I began to feel all sorry for myself that he was maybe no longer missing me or yearning for me the way every cell in my body was for him while I sat back at my desk, the onslought of germ warfare began. Perhaps this was Mother Nature's cruel joke, "You want more time together again? Okay, bring on The Sick!"
(Continued in Part II...)