Every Tuesday, my parents' dog, Pippin, goes to doggy daycare. It's like my vision of dog heaven: a large covered area full of dogs romping around, dog toys, and a wading pool. Pippin enjoys doggy daycare, I think, and comes home in a bounding frenzy, stinking of dog spit and dank with the water from the wading pool. Plus it's good for her, getting to hang out and play with other dogs.
Some people send their dogs to daycare because they work all day and don't like leaving their dogs home alone. While my mom is teaching most of the day, my dad's office is quite close to home and he's more free to come home and visit Pippin and take her for walks and stuff. Doggy daycare is more to break up her routine and give her some proper dog time with her dog colleagues.
LE would absolutely love going to doggy daycare. Dogs, toys, balls, a wading pool full of nasty dog water... it would be like LE's vision heaven. Plus, they have a live webcam on site, so I could tune in from home and watch the dogs and my baby frolicking together. But I think they probably have some sort of policy about letting babies go there, and I would guess there are some people in the world who wouldn't think too highly of such a thing. So I got to thinking, wouldn't it be nice if there were something like doggy daycare, but for LE? A large covered area with babies running around and toys and perhaps a wading pool? Turns out I'm an idiot and there is such a thing. It's just called regular daycare. In fact, it's just called daycare, no need to specify 'regular.'
So we found one nearby that takes kids his age part-time, and LE officially started daycare last week, for two half-days a week. He gets some Big Boy independent time to play with other kids his age, and I get a bit of a break from chasing him up and down the stairs. This might help to explain why I've been managing to post here more than twice a month. We've been calling daycare Baby School to help LE feel big. Sometimes, when he's really in a pique, we call it Baby University.
Big, however, is not really what LE needs to feel. Unlike Pippin, LE doesn't start jumping around and squealing when it's time to go to Baby School. Quite the opposite. He realizes that the Mommy Appendage he thought was attached to him at all times in fact isn't attached to him, and he howls. A lot. Today he howled as soon as we walked into the room full of babies, where the toddlers hang out until their minder comes to take them into the toddler room. Then all the babies started howling. I'm pretty sure the baby minder hates me because she's the one who has to get all the small babies settled back down.
In addition to red-faced howling, LE clings to me. He clings with all his might. He buries his snotty, tear-stained face into my neck. He goes, "Mamamamamamaaaaa" which is something he says all the time-- to me, to his grandparents, to the dog, to passing strangers, to his oatmeal-- but when he says it crying it's almost too much to bear. Nothing will distract LE from his howling, not even the things he loves most, like balls or crawling babies. Any attempt to distract him by pointing out one of these things just upsets him more.
Looking at it from his perspective, I can see why being left at daycare is upsetting for him. Today marks the ninth time in his little life that LE has been without me for more than an hour or two. Who can blame him for thinking I'm not coming back? After I prise him from my neck and get out of Baby School as fast as I can (like ripping off a bandage) I feel just awful. I feel like the most evil Mommy in the world. I feel a small sense of relief at having a few free hours ahead of me, and then I feel even worse for feeling a little bit good. I think about how LE probably feels about a thousand times sadder and more bereft than I do, and it's all I can do not to go back and scoop him up him right then.
On his first day of Baby School, I started getting antsy about picking him up two hours before it was time to go. I had visions of him there crying the whole time, but kept trying to reassure myself that after I left he'd started having such a good time with the toys and other kids that he wouldn't even remember me when I got there, much less want to go home. When I arrived, the kids in his class were playing outside. LE was off by himself pushing a car around. I called him a few times and he didn't respond, and I thought "Whew! He's okay after all!" but then he turned and saw me and, both squealing with joy and crying, ran up to hug me. This just made me feel worse and I almost cried. Actually, I did a little bit, but sucked it up and tried to act cool while his minder recounted his day's activities to me. LE cried all the way out to the car, alternately clinging to my neck and patting my hair and face, as though making sure I was really there. I cuddled him and wiped at his grubby face and smelled that weird many-little-kids-smell of kindergartens and pre-schools that lingered in his hair.
The second day of Baby School was even worse. The classroom has windows to the hallway so you can look in and spy on your kid in action. I went straight for the door but my dad stopped me and said, "Look!" There was LE, sitting all alone at a tiny little table in a tiny little chair, finishing up his lunch while the other kids were settling themselves for their naps (and how the hell anyone gets them to do this is one mystery I'll never fathom). I wasn't going to cry but there was music playing in the room that must have been calculated to make me lose it-- Kermit singing The Rainbow Connection. So not only was I all upset all over again that Jim Henson died, there was my little boy sitting in a little chair politely poking his peas with a spoon. Upon seeing me, his reaction was much the same as the first day.
As it was the third day. On the third day, his minder said he'd cried for a full 35 minutes, until they served breakfast and he calmed down. She said it was the first day they'd seen him smile. While playing dress-up, LE put on a purple fake-fur hat that he wouldn't take off until lunchtime. The only other hat he's ever voluntarily worn (since his hands have been coordinated enough to remove a hat, I mean) was a pink two-pointed ballerina fairy princess hat with sparkly feathers and long netting veils. So it would seem my boy has a taste for the, uh, flamboyant shall we say?
The voluntary wearing of a hat isn't the only growing up LE's done since starting Baby School. Sitting un-tethered in a chair to eat is a new development, plus he's been amazing all and sundry by suddenly learning how to feed himself with a spoon. From his own plate. Without throwing the plate full of food on the floor. So perhaps it really is Big Boy school after all.
I'm sort of handling it. The separation, I mean. While it's nice having some time to myself that won't end at any second because of the baby waking up, I'm still a bit of a wreck while he's gone, and it usually takes me about thirty minutes to figure out what to do with myself. All the time I'm missing the little fellow and feeling fragile, I berate myself for being such a wuss. Most mothers, after all, go back to work and have to leave their babies all day. My dear friend Bri is struggling with this, and my heart goes out to her. I don't know how these mommies do it. The only way I'm managing is that LE is at home most of the time, giving me a chance to get a little sick of him and forget the awful silence his absence makes.
So both of us are learning something. And neither of us likes it very much. We'll press on though, and hope it improves.
New things suck.