FORT JACKSON, SC -- I always heard moms talk about how difficult it was to leave their children in the care of another person for the first time. And each time I would hear such a story, I found it hard to believe.
At six weeks, I'd already enrolled him into the on-post CDC for the first time. At seven months, my husband and I left him with my mom for a long weekend as we went on a cruise. And we have been fortunate enough to have friends who don't mind inviting him over for a sleepover to give us time to ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we weren't necessarily jumping for joy when we left him with others. The sound of another baby would have our heads turning involuntarily. And in certain situations, we would find ourselves wondering how our child would react.
But I never really experienced that heart-wrenching feeling of separation that I have heard other moms describe; until this week, that is.
A couple of weeks ago, our son moved into what I've playfully dubbed the big kid's class. Whereas his previous room included newborn babies to brand new walkers, the toddler room may range in age from 15 months to nearly 3 years. Before his one-week transition began, my husband and I met with the room leader. She showed us around the room, my eyes widening at what she said the children would learn. After lunch, the children brushed their teeth. This room even had toddler-sized sinks and toilets.
Having always been drawn to older children - no doubt enchanted by their ability to do things he was not yet big enough for - he took to his new room immediately. He seemed to pass his former infant class with trepidation; peeking in ever so slightly but shrinking away from his former caregivers lest they whisk him away from his new class.
I learned quickly that the toddler room was a far cry from the infant room; a romper I put in his backpack as an extra outfit sat untouched for days. Big kids, apparently, didn't wear rompers. They also didn't carry diaper bags. But despite all of the differences, my anxiety quickly faded. At drop-off time, I was soon forgotten as my son rushed to open the safety gate to begin his day.
Until two days ago.
He was already fussy when I woke him that morning, seemingly bothered by the arrival of two top molars. He settled enough to eat a small snack before we headed toward post, but midway through our walk to his class, he was sniffling. Once we got into the classroom, he was openly crying. And as I spoke with the caregivers, I saw him run past us with a book, bawling his eyes out. By the time I left the room, I didn't see him, but I could still hear his wails. As I passed the room's window, I spotted him in a corner where he paused from his cries just enough to take in the fact that I had left him and build up enough momentum to cry even harder.
At that moment, as I weighed the pros and cons of going back into the room, a pain pierced through my heart. In my mind, I ran back in and hugged him tightly, telling him it would be OK. But I knew that rushing in, and leaving again, would do more harm than good. Besides, I knew the ladies (and man) would be able to handle it without getting emotionally involved. I was in awe at how the caregivers wrangled a dozen or so toddlers through the center, on the playground and through mealtimes. I still wonder how they possibly brush each of the children's teeth when I can hardly get just one to sit still as his teeth are brushed.
As I left the center, still hearing his cries in my head, I knew that was one in a long line of heart-wrenching decisions I would have to make. Because as much as we may try to delay it, my son is no longer my baby; now, he's a big boy.