One hot summer’s day, after an excruciatingly long episode of standing at the end of my driveway opening and closing my letterbox, to my baby's delight, I was happy in my decision to enrol him in daycare. My letterbox had become a source of intense fascination for my five-month-old baby and as I opened and closed it I became excited at the prospect of him being surrounded by other children, passionate educators and many toys that weren't affixed to my fence.
The day arrived like any other, like an out of control sea ship ploughing into the shore. I dressed Archy in clothes I was sure wouldn’t be judged by any mothers who would care to do so. I had his bag packed with a thousand bottles in the hope that today might be the day he took one after three months of failed attempts. I had stuffed his delicious fat little feet into shoes, even though he couldn’t walk, let alone crawl, knowing they’d come off at the first nappy change. My precious dumpling child was growing up.
I took him to daycare. His wonderful teachers held out their arms for him and he went to them willingly. I looked around in slow-motion horror at the torrents of snot on all the children’s wet, smiling faces and the toys being shared from gob to gob when the teachers’ backs were turned. Archy sat atop his teacher’s hip, totally oblivious of my despair and the milestone occurring, perhaps in my life more than his.
In my nervousness I went through explicit details of the bowel motions of the last 24 hours (his), what he had for breakfast, what helped to settle him to sleep, the successes and failings of sleep training, and my breasts. This last topic I spoke about - voluntarily - for an uncomfortable amount of time. Having been deprived of adult company for so long, I had forgotten what was acceptable subject matter to discuss with strangers. As it turns out, lumpy engorged breasts don’t feature on this list, but Archy’s teachers were delightfully accommodating, no doubt aware of the challenges of weaning my baby off my body and into the arms of another maternal figure for the daytime hours.
I left him after I feeling like I must have outstayed my welcome. Nothing the teachers said supported this, but it had been a very long time. It was time to cut the cord so to speak. I busied myself through the day. All of a sudden the most menial of tasks became urgent. I laundered my duvet and mattress protector, flipped the mattress (which I had only ever read about doing). I rearranged the condiment shelf, so all the labels faced out, and did a supermarket shop for things like salt and sesame seeds, which had fallen off my list for months. I didn’t know what to do with my arms, and rocked my supermarket trolley back and forth.
Pick-up time rolled around slowly, not helped by having spent much of the afternoon staring at the wall waiting for my boobs to explode. I made the call to collect him after my body was uncomfortably full. I prepared for my entrance, visualised him reaching out after a traumatic day without me, his one and only.
Turns out he was fine. He didn’t sleep in the sleep room, but on the floor on a mattress in the play area and he didn’t have any formula, but he was fine. My attempts to condition him were futile, as I had forgotten that any learning he had done, with regards to sleep in particular, had to be re-learned in a new context. He was totally emotionless when I collected him. No arms up, no yearning, just nonchalance.
Archy’s first day of daycare was really my first day of daycare. Entrusting others with his care, and not having his little warm body next to mine featured as gaping holes in my day. I became aware of my emotional dependence on him, and realising this, I felt it was time for me to begin softening this by opening my arms to others.
When I drop him off now his little friends say ‘Good morning Archy’ in their delightful, snotty, chipmunk voices. He sleeps well and has his bottle and forgets about me until I collect him. He’s learning to reach for me now and I have to downplay the instinct to bowl man, woman and child over to get to him. My boobs aren’t lumpy anymore and I know not to share these details with his teachers. Like every other major phase in his little life, daycare has become routine and familiar and I am so grateful to his teachers and their support staff for caring for him for just enough time that I can reconnect with my professional self.
I also got a new letterbox, one with a lock.
- Philippa Wintle