I’m terribly excited and terribly sad. Excited for what’s to come; sad for what’s been. Next week, we are going to start Miller in school. It’ll be part-time, two mornings a week. He’s ready, and I’m ready. That’s where the excitement comes from. But, this isn’t my first time starting him in a program. It will be the third time, actually, and because I have memories from the first two experiences, I’m very sad.
In January of 2015, when Miller was 10 months old, I signed him up for daycare. Yes, you read that right. A full-time stay-at-home-mom who resorted to daycare. I judged myself for it at the time. I felt like a complete failure. But at the time, it was…well, it was.
Being a stay-at-home-mom wasn’t what I thought it would be. My husband’s work was such that, on average, we saw him about two hours in the evening before Miller went to bed. Some days he’d be gone before we awoke for the day and wouldn’t return til after we were asleep. One time, we went 48 hours without seeing him. I stirred in the night and felt his warmth next to me, heard his steady breathing, and knew he was home.
I know this is a common experience for other stay-at-home-moms. But, knowing that you’re not alone doesn’t change or help the fact that you’re all alone (with a baby).
It was a long stretch. A long stretch of long days. Never before had I been in someone’s company 24/7, and never before had I been so lonely.
So it was me, Miller, isolation, and one other full-time companion: Exhaustion. As it turns out, exhaustion and sleep are not mutually exclusive. Being “on” around the clock, 24/7 wears a person down as much if not more than a lack of sleep.
I remember being at the gym one day, and a mother with a son about ten years older than Miller said, “Isn’t it amazing? Do you look at the clock to see that three hours have gone by and you didn’t even know it?” “Yes,” I nodded in disbelief. People experience that? I wondered. Not me. I got through my day in 15 minute increments. I was perpetually aware of the time and how slowly it crept along.
Our marriage became strained. Mark didn’t know it at the time – he didn’t find out for over year and half – that I questioned whether we would make it as a couple. I questioned everything, including my existence. One night, alone, in downtown Decatur, I crossed the street without looking both ways first. Mark was leaving for a trip the next day, and I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle the isolation and exhaustion, and both were about to increase for the next week. I crossed that street hoping a car would hit me and take me out, just like how a driver took out my dad.
Shortly after he returned from his trip, I sat in a heap of tears on the living room floor and told Mark that I felt like a crazy person. Like I belonged on the 7th floor at St. Mary’s (psych ward) or needed heavily medicated. But I didn’t want to be medicated. I wanted to figure this out for myself. Other girlfriends of mine had children around Miller’s age, and they weren’t flying off the handle. What the fuck is wrong with me?!
Mark stepped in, and signed Miller up for daycare. It was a life saving, marriage saving move. One that I still judge myself for. My dad’s death was the saddest part of my life; this season was the hardest. I still haven’t forgiven myself for not being strong enough, tough enough, woman enough to mother my own son around the clock.
It was heartbreaking, seeing Miller’s little face contorted with confusion and hurt. Looking at me with a “What did I do wrong to deserve this?” question on his tear-streaked face. That’s how bad off I was. That I was able to leave him there.
I was able to drop him off and pick him up anytime between 6am and 6pm. A couple of times, I dropped him off just to go to the grocery store by myself. I’d go home, unload the groceries, and get right back in the car to pick him up. Other days I’d leave him for longer to go home and do housework. I’d be mid-project, and a flip would switch inside – time to go back and get him.
He was in daycare for a total of five weeks. During that time I didn’t go to the doctor for medication. Instead, I hired a life coach. I wanted to do everything in my power to figure out how to cope for myself.
Fast forward to January of 2016. At the urging of some folks in my inner circle, I signed Miller up for school. He was 22 months old, and they wanted to see him socialized more. We chose a local montessori school for its excellent reputation and sent him.
The school’s attendance policy is four mornings a week for three hours each morning. By the third morning, Miller caught on to the getting ready routine and started crying at home before I even got him in the car. And then? Came drop-off.
Again, the tears. On both our parts. It was horrible, heart wrenching, nauseating. Once again came his look of questioning. “What did I do wrong to deserve this?” filled his red-rimmed, teary eyes.
My first morning dropping him off, I got home and opened a bottle of wine. It was 9am. If you know me, you know I’m not a drinker. That’s how bad it was the second time around.
In the days that followed, I cried to the point that I wasn’t fit for public, so running errands wasn’t an option. On “good” days, I’d sit and work on my blog. I started it at the encouragement of a couple of friends, including my life coach.
Some days I cried so hysterically that I’d go home and alternate between sitting on the couch and pacing the floors; I just wanted my baby back. I was so distraught, productivity at home wasn’t an option.
I hated that, due to a school rule, I couldn’t go and get Miller until the morning session was through. I hated the place for telling me when I could and couldn’t be with my child. I paced and cried paced and cried and hit the door ASAP to get in the pick up line.
The director of the school tried encouraging me by saying that I was with him all week long – he was only at school for twelve hours of the week. She was right, of course, it was only 12 hours. But it was the best hours of the day. Morning is prime time with a little one. They’re fresh, alert, happy, and ready for fun.
I survived the first year (and a half) of his life. Barely, but I survived. When he hit 18 months, mothering became different for me. It was fun, exciting, and enjoyable. I wanted those twelve hours back with my son. I wanted to stay in pajamas with him til noon if that’s what we felt like. I wanted to stick him in the car and go for a drive around the neighborhood if that’s what he wanted. I wanted to run errands with him or visit friends with him whenever we pleased. I couldn’t do those things with him while he was at school.
I pulled him after two and a half weeks. The director was lovely about it and fully understanding. I’m grateful to her for her kind compassion with me.
I started taking Miler to a variety of toddler groups and programs. I could socialize my son and still spend as much time with him as I wanted, and that’s exactly what I did.
So here we are, planning on sending him to school two mornings a week beginning next week, January of 2017. We’re looking forward to the change of scene from our house. For a bit more structure. For more socialization, gym time, swim time, new toys, new friends, and new food.
He’s ready. And I’m? Excited and sad. Excited because this time around we’re ready; sad because it’s time. It’s here. It’s happening. I made it. Right, wrong, or indifferent. Ugly, teary, and messy. I made it.