After I dropped my older son off at daycare for the first time, now almost 4 years ago, I drove up 180 weeping. It was not my son’s first day away from me, I’d been back at work full-time for three months. I wasn’t worried about the care he would receive, I wouldn’t have left him if I had been.
Why was I so sad?
I realized this was one in a lifetime of steps toward sharing him with the world. There was a point where he lived inside of me and was part of me. He was fully mine. Then he was born and began living as a separate person. I still knew every sight he’d ever seen, every smell he’d ever smelled, and every sound he’d ever heard.
He spent newborn hours with his dad, skin to skin while I caught a nap… and that was less true. And then we left him with a friend for the first time to have dinner out and spend the whole time talking about our amazing baby… it was less true. Finally, I left him to go to work and he was snuggled by grandmas and aunties… and it was still less true.
Eventually I didn’t know every food he’d ever eaten, he was having experiences apart from me and the world was being introduced to my sweet baby. As I drove and cried, I saw these steps stretching out before us; preschool, elementary school, summer camp, high school, college, travel, and one day maybe doing as I have done and building a beautiful life thousands of miles from his mom and dad. I do genuinely want that for him, but also recognize that then, the share would be complete; he would belong to the world.
When he started daycare and eventually preschool, he had whole days of experiences without me. Some cool things came with that. He brings out phrases that delight and surprise us (“Mommy nailed it!”) He knows things and songs we didn’t teach him. He has sweet friendships. He negotiates the world of other kids and adults and that’s exactly what I would hope for him. And as heart-breaking as it is to stare at the face of a four-year-old and imagine him living far away from me, I want him to feel curious and empowered and free to build the life that he wants. Which might not be geographically close to me.
Two years later, his little brother started daycare. I packed up his bags of milk and his diapers and extra clothes and dropped him off with some very nice young women for the day. I didn’t cry this time. Maybe because his older brother is still bonded with me. Maybe because I know his brother loves me. Maybe because daycare and preschool have proven great for his brother, socially and educationally.
And maybe because I’ve come to see that the timing may vary by family but the end is the same, we raise our children to belong more and more to the world and less and less to us.