My baby started in a play-group for the first time today. Parents everywhere know exactly how I felt. Breathless. Although the days during the early months seemed to drag by and the hours between morning and night seemed to stretch out endlessly, somehow it seems like we reached here so quickly. Now Zi has conversations, eats with a fork or spoon for herself, reads books, remembers, makes new friends and goes off to have her own experiences, ones where I only figure peripherally as she learns to establish her own self in spaces apart from me. Saying goodbye at the door, I wondered who has separation anxiety more, parents or their children.
Happily, a number of investments paid off for us both. Several times over the last months, I went to the play-group to spend an hour with Zi while she acclimatized to the auntie, the room and the other toddlers. I had also been reading to her about llama llama who misses mama llama on her first day of school and who soon realises that the end of the day mama will always come back. I used the story to explain who the teacher was, how I was leaving Zi to go to work and that, even if she missed me, she could be safe and happy on her own.
As I was leaving, I could hear her making that pitiful wail that tugs at your heartstrings so hard, tears can spring to your eyes if you don’t focus your mind and your breath on not running back to squeeze her tight, the two of you holding onto each other like the only connected souls in an alienating and uncomprending world. Still, by the time I got to the car, she had obviously become distracted enough to stop crying and I felt huge relief that, although I had forgotten to pack half her school supplies and to label any of the things I did pack, somehow I had taken care of her psychological well-being during this transition. About half an hour later, the auntie texted me to say that Zi was happily playing and reading, and had identified her as the friendly zebra who is llama llama’s school teacher. Familiarity had been found and my own anxiety similarly disappeared.
When my family asked me about auntie’s qualifications and whether the playgroup took a Montessori approach, I honestly couldn’t remember, which made me seem like a mother who didn’t pay attention to what matters. But the truth is that you don’t make decisions just for the good of your child, you make them for you too. My best friend from high school was also sending her son there and knowing another parent, without having to put in the effort, gave me great comfort. My friend and I also shared basic values. We wanted a space where our children were not going to be schooled, quarrelled with or hit. We wanted a space where they would instead just be loved, and allowed to learn through experience, interest and instinct.
So, Zi and I each had a first today and we did okay. Now, tomorrow and growing up seems like it will come all too soon. Perhaps that is why Zi insisted on falling asleep lying on top of me and holding me so possessively. Perhaps, that is why I let her, grateful I’m centre of her world at least for now.
Even if you know they will be fine, just before you let them go, all you want is a chance to still time and hold it all so so tight.