Today was a first. Not the kind of first you’re dashing to the baby book to memorialize—the kind of first that makes mascara run onto the gauzy white shirt that, for a change, didn't already have spit-up on it before 8 a.m. It was the first time my usually cheerful 5-month-old, who's been at his wonderful daycare for six weeks, was inconsolable at drop-off and, while in the loving embrace of a teacher, reached for me with his chubby, little arms. His desperate, tear-filled eyes seemed to say, “Don't leave me, Mommy.” I smiled and waved, as I'd been told to do to show everything was A-OK when my firstborn, now 4, went through a period of separation anxiety. But on this occasion, as soon as I reached the parking lot, well out of view of my precious boy, I was crying almost as hard as he was.
I know working is the best choice for me and my family. I know my children will be just as happy as the kids of my stay-at-home mom friends. I know they'll benefit in all kinds of ways from having a working mom. I know he's in a high-quality daycare that offers myriad advantages to its enrollees. While those are helpful reminders that my working can be a very positive decision, it doesn't make it any easier to walk away from the baby who seems specifically to want me.
I wrote a message on the app my daycare uses to keep parents and teachers connected throughout the day. It said: “I hope he's OK.” The subtext: “Please tell me he's OK.” By the time I sent the message, there was a new entry in his timeline of activities: He was napping.
Of course he was. He had fallen asleep earlier on the way to the center and had been especially cranky, likely on account of his four overnight wake-ups. (That's probably why I was especially cranky too.) And of course he's OK. We wouldn't have chosen a daycare where he'd be anything but OK. It's quite possible the baby was reaching out for me because he knew I’d have held him in the “pass-out position,” horizontally across my chest, head snuggled against me, where he could quickly doze off.
Mornings like this make being a working mother hard. But it's not like moms who don't work are with their children 24/7 until they turn 18. Nearly every mom, stay-at-home or otherwise, at some point experiences the heartbreak of parting with a crying child (hell, I sobbed when my parents left me at college that first night). And just like nearly every mom, it's not many hours before we and our wailing tots are reunited for a long, happy hug. While the mascara-stained shirt and memory of sorrow over separating might stay with us, you can be sure all that good our working provides is what's going to stay with our children.
A message from a daycare teacher came in a few hours later. It simply said: "He's fine." And so was I.