Loving and Leaving: The challenges of childcare
My baby boy is joy. He is dancing eyes, mischievous cackles, steady hands and knees making a break for it up the stairs when I’m not looking. He is sneaking sidelong glances in my direction just before dipping his hands into the cat’s bowl, triumphant upper body twist-dances with cat-food treasure in chubby hand.
He is my joy and he makes my heart sing and today I left him with strangers for the first time.
Just 30 minutes to see how he gets in the wobbler room of the local creche. A treasure trove of other babies to look at and new corners, textures, colours to explore.
Just 30 seconds from where I sit now in the back garden of my house. 40 seconds if you go around the green instead of over it, who knows how long if my three year old decides to ‘cycle his scooter’/stops to pick buttercups/makes me carry scooter/makes me pretend to be a dinosaur and chase him.
My phone lies on the table beside me in case I get the call to tell me baby is inconsolable. But 30 minutes and 30 seconds is a wrench. A milestone. A necessary evil for a couple of mornings a week if I and my homeworking husband are to get a little work done while preserving our sanity at the same time.
Childcare. it gets easier and it gets harder. The first time you drop them off or leave them at home as you exit to work. The day you have an important early meeting and have to drop your toddler off first things and he hangs onto your neck, your legs and has to be gently lifted away by a girl who cares for him, you can tell she really cares for him, but she is not family.
The day you pick him up late, Last kid left on the dot of 6pm and he has developed creche Stockholm syndrome and wants to remain there for the evening playing puzzles with his captors, instead of journeying home with you down a busy rush hour street.
It’s easier, the first day you drop him off and he climbs unsteadily up the stone steps. ” I want to ring the bell”, marches down the hall to his room without a glance back. But it’s harder too, because a little part of you wants him to want to stay with you.
Another day he pauses outside the door. ” But I want to come with you. Why can’t I come with you?”. Bribes of games and activities and raisins and a cartoon when you get home and ‘we can go to the playground later’. He does not understand work, and you leave him. Because to keep him close is beautiful, but space for you to work to breathe also has its charms, sometimes feels like survival, of your happy family life.
And now work is not a place you go to, but a room you disappear into upstairs. Life is more uncertain now in many ways, but one certainty. More of my day, my days, our days as parents, is spent with our children than would have been possible in the city.
We lucky ones, brave ones, creating a life that allows this. We scared ones, mad ones, searching for our balance of family and me-time and you-time and time in nature and exercise time and time together as a couple and time making money and time sleeping and when does the housework get done (the answer is never).
So now, on a summer morning, I get to sit outside with a coffee and write words. Later while the baby naps, I’ll send emails and read reports and ignore the debris on the floor. We now have to travel more for work but have to work less to meet our basic financial needs. And we have to learn to need less… or I do. my husband is already well practiced in needing less.
My baby handed into the arms of a stranger, and there were no tears. My boy out in the world. ” You almost want there to be tears,” another baby-mother remarked. Do I? I don’t think so. I wish for him to feel safe, happy with and without me, but to crawl into my arms on my return, nuzzle into my chest to nurse. Pull away and smile up at me in thanks and then draw my boob back into this mouth for mother’s milk. I want this love and his fearless nature to embrace the world, not just me.
One day instead of me leaving him, he will leave me. Not for half an hour, but for days, weeks, months, years (hopefully not). One day. Not today though.
Today I pick him up and smile at his happy smiling face. “He was just fine. No bother at all on him” the stranger, who is not a stranger, but the neighbour of his Granny, mother to two little boys herself.
Later I take him and his brother to the playground. Before, I had a couple of hours at the end of the day after I finished work to play, to make dinner, to read stories. Now I sit on a swing with my baby while my older boy plays his favourite game of ‘making ice creams’.
He hides behind the climbing frame.” What flavour do you guys want?” banana, mango, tomato, all flavours are possible here in the lazy summer afternoon.
I originally wrote these words in 2018. My baby is now a boy, in his last couple of weeks of preschool. It got me thinking back to those days when it felt like such a wrench to say goodbye to him and the many days where I had to untangle myself from his hands or his older brother's hands in order to get myself to work.