FAMILY: Letting go – back to work, back to daycare

Columnist Susan Lundy recalls the sad time the stay-at-home mom days ended

As September rolls around and the kids start shuffling out of the summer nest back to university etc., I’m struck again by the enduring role that “letting go” plays in parenting.

By the time our children actually leave home, we’ve spent years slowly relinquishing the ties – dropping them off at the first day of Kindergarten; lying awake, watching the clock tick, tick, tick towards curfew; sending them off on a plane to Thailand … I’m surprised all parents aren’t in therapy.

Twenty-two years later, I still recall the first day I returned to work as a mom. There I sat, car idling, unwilling to press foot to gas pedal. In the rearview mirror, I could see little Danica, wearing a bright red sweater, sitting on daddy’s shoulders and waving goodbye. I sobbed the entire way to work. I arrived at the office, rushed into my dungeon and immediately called home. Guessing it was me, Dad didn’t answer. So I let my fretting voice blare across the (pre-voicemail) answering machine.

“How is she?” I demanded. “Put her on the phone.”

No answer. So I began singing a soothing lullaby. That got him and he picked up.  “She’s just fine,” he announced. “In fact, she began crawling five minutes after you left, took her first step about three minutes later and now we’re reading Tolstoy.”

“Very funny.” I hung up and called again 30 minutes later. And 30 minutes after that. I went home at lunchtime.

But as time marched on, we needed daycare; and I dreaded it. It was bad enough I had to trudge off to work and leave my precious gem in the care of dad or nana (I mean really, did my mom have enough experience; would she know what to do?) But to hand her over to a stranger? Expose her to the worldliness of other children?

My friend Sandy, who didn’t need to work and spent a lot of time reading parenting literature, helpfully suggested that placing children in daycare was, in essence, putting them on the path to juvenile crime. I expressed the opinion that a little socialization was probably a good thing, but I couldn’t help picturing my daughter behind bars.

So with great angst rolling in my stomach one September afternoon, nine-month-old Danica and I approached a little white building that housed a neighbourhood daycare. My glum mood lifted a few notches at the sight of the multi-coloured climbing apparatus, swings, slides and tricycles. We stepped up to the door, knocked and entered the threshold of a whole new era.

Danica pulled herself up on a couch and stood, surveying the room while I sniffled a bit. Then it happened. Little Rosalie, just a few months older than Danica, toddled over, put her arms around Danica and hugged her. It was a sign! The next day, I dropped her off for a few hours while I worked. I picked up a happy child, who did not appear any closer to needing therapy.

I continued to suffer moderate anxiety each time I dropped her off – parents could go only as far as the doorstep so as not to hear their offspring wailing, should they suddenly form a parent-attachment – but (unlike me) Danica never cried.

In the end, both my daughters spent happy days in daycare, even forging a few life-long friendships. And aside from incurring a few traffic tickets, I’m happy to report, neither child has been carried off in a police car or yet spent any time behind bars.

– Susan Lundy

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