Friday, October 30, 2009

The Evolution of Leaving your Child with Others...a.k.a. the quick and painless death of standards.

It was promising to be a long Saturday. Sam was already restless and had been since my 6AM wakeup call. It’s amazing how terrified and scared one child can sound first thing in the morning. You rush into the nursery after slamming into the wall in an early morning vertigo induced rush, ready to calm his fears and chase away the monsters and are instead met with a smiling child who says “HI!” (and if he had a thought bubble, it might say, “Wow, it works every time”) You get your bearings and drop your exhausted shoulders. There’s no leaving. He’s seen you. You are both up and ready to start your day. Why oh why did I once again not load and set the coffee maker last night? This particular Saturday I took him over to a local coffee house that specialized in distracting children. You pay $5, hand your child over a baby gate, get a security number (no worries about someone kidnapping this one…not today anyway) and go have a latte in peace. It’s heaven. As I was drinking my caffeine and zoning out, I had to laugh at the fact that I didn’t once look, care or even ask what my child was doing back in the playroom. It was peaceful…if only for that one hour of my life. They could have been teaching him to juggle knives. Fine by me.
At birth, and for the first several months, no one was worthy to keep my child…except for the grandmas. He saw no church nursery, no gym nursery and no babysitter. I worried too much. At around four months, I reluctantly took him to the church nursery. The nursery hall was this part of our church that I had heard of and vaguely knew its location. I knew it was guarded every Sunday by someone checking security cards and questioning the comings and goings of people but that was about all I knew. I was a new mom. I didn’t know what room to take him too, if I needed a reservation or even what I was supposed to pack for the 75 minutes he would be there. Would they remember to feed him? Would he be devastated that I was not there to comfort him? Were these total strangers even qualified to care for my child (the first baby that was ever born)? I guess the nursery worker for Sam’s age group, who was my childhood friend’s mother and a grandmother to eleven children, was in fact qualified and not exactly a stranger. It was a daunting and scary experience none the less. I worried, only slightly, that he might contract illnesses that he had yet to be vaccinated for and come out of there having been bitten by some other child. At four months? It could totally happen…teeth or no teeth. I sat through church clutching my security card and watching the screen in case my number was called to come rescue my child from the clutches of the nursery. I even left during the closing prayer so that I could be the first mommy in line to pick up my child lest he, at four months, would think I had forgotten him.
At 10 months, I joined a gym with a nursery. I had gotten a little better about leaving him. I would drop him off in the childcare room and eek out the world’s fastest elliptical workout while keeping one eye on the t.v. that monitored the childcare room. I worried that my brand new walker would stumble over his shoes and break all of his teeth (this I reasoned was slightly more plausible than my fear of accidentally dropping him over the side of a cruise ship). There were older kids in there…would they be mindful of him. Would they include him? Oh no, not the, “sitting alone at the lunch table fear.” It can’t be time for that one already. No one told me about this never ending stream of things to worry about as a parent while I was pregnant. Where was the chapter in those books entitled, “Fear and Guilt: Say hello to your new best friends?” I felt ill prepared.
Finally at 13 months, I decided that it was time for him to interact with other kids. I thought he had been sitting at home for far too long watching Top Gear and Judge Judy. He needed to learn kid things. I was secretly afraid, I might come into his crib one morning to him chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” So I signed him up for a half day mother’s morning out program. This was two half days a week. He would have other children to play with, other adults to mind and someone else who would have to instruct him not to put everything he saw into his mouth. This was going to be good for all of us. As much as I wanted to leave my child with other people from an early age, it wasn’t easy. I wanted him to get used to being left and then picked up. I wanted him to have that experience…I just wanted to watch it on camera 24/7. School proved to be, indeed, good for him - eventually. There were a few hiccups in the beginning, including a call from the school saying Sam was mad at them and needed to be picked up right away. Mad at you? You send kids home for that? Still, I asked about his day, how he was, if he ate the paint, how they managed to get him to eat sitting at a table, whether they had mastered the art of his diaper change without throwing out their backs. It was a growing experience for Sam and me both. I learned to trust…he learned to…um…I’m not sure he really learned anything but he sure seemed to enjoy it.
It’s amazing how you start out with big ideas about how parenting will go. How no one on Earth had ever raised a child other than you, and if they did, they surely did it wrong. I saw my “leaving my child with someone else” fear fade as fast as my need for a wipe warmer. So there I sat, a mother to a 23 month old. I was frazzled, without make up, no ambition, zero drive, clinging to a fading memory of the days when I used to be cute and I realized I was willing to drop my kid off at a moment’s notice for any random childcare worker or felon willing to give me a few moments free of whining and a $3 cup of coffee. Wow…where had my standards gone?