Today, Max started going to daycare. Although there will be a 2-month adaptation period, it still feels like today, we are closing a cycle that was amazing and full of challenges. Like everything in motherhood, this closure is moving a lot inside me; it's this constant fight between the fear and comfort of staying still and the fear and excitement of moving forward. COVID19 also adds to a mother's normal anxiety about sending a kid to daycare or school.
COVID fears aside, this is one of those milestones we know and are told will be hard. No matter when it happens, sending your baby to daycare/kindergarten/school will generate conflict within. It is scary because it is a reminder of how fast they grow and how short the baby stage is.
First, the positives:
I'm happy that he will have this experience because he desperately needs social contact. Until now, it has been pretty much him and me every day, and it can get boring for both of us. Being far from family and friends has taken so many socialization opportunities away from him. So far, he hasn't gotten many chances to play with other toddlers. When we go out for walks, and he sees other kids, he goes crazy for them. I guess he gets it from his dad because I'm not the most social person.
I'm also sure his development will be so much faster with other kids around and with actual professionals organizing his mornings and preparing stimulating activities. I have been trying so hard to provide him with fun activities that help him learn and help us stay entertained. To be honest, I have also felt the pressure to do some of these ideas because I see them everywhere and somehow feel like if I don't, my kid will fall behind, or his education will be somehow compromised, meaning I failed as a mother. And so I have hundreds of ideas on Pinterest on sensory bins, Montessori activities, DYS toys for fine motor skills, and things to teach your 1-year-old. It turns out, almost every time we have tried them, he hasn't enjoyed them much. They mostly make a big mess that I then have to clean while Max is glued to my leg, and the time he has enjoyed them, I have caught his attention for 2 minutes. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try all those cool activities that you see on your Instagram feed. All I'm saying is you need to manage your expectations and listen more to your kid's needs than to your mom's guilt.
Furthermore, I'm sure that the time we will have together will be better in quality. Because having time means I won't be playing with him and at the same time going through my to-do list. Having a one-year-old means that I get a maximum of 2 hours in my day while he naps to do everything I require to do. Cook, do laundry, clean, write, exercise, relax. When he is awake, he needs my full attention.
If I turn for a second, he manages to find the one drawer I left open, or from one day to another, it turns out he can climb, and the glasses on the shelf are no longer safe. He loves when I take things out of the washing machine and wants to help, but it takes double the time because I fold, and he unfolds. I can't even shower in peace. I leave him outside the bathroom where I can see him, remove everything he shouldn't play with, and give him his favorite toys. Yet, the other day,I had to run out of the shower with shampoo in my hair because he got stuck between the wall and the dryer.
Every time I try to leave him playing on his own while I do something else, he hates it. He doesn't want to play with me all the time, but he wants me there, available. Max going to nursery for some hours means that when we are together, I can give him my full attention.
Now for the negatives.
You guessed it, here comes the mom's guilt. Mainly because I'm lucky that I don't have to work and have time with my son, and part of me feels like I'm wasting a golden opportunity. I should take advantage, and I should want and love every minute of our time together without wanting to be a minute apart from him. Does sending him to daycare mean I don't want to be with him? No good mother should wish to have ME TIME!! How crazy is that! What if I miss out on one of his "firsts," or what if something happens, and I'm not there to comfort him. Shouldn't we wait until he needs to go to school? In Germany, Mothers can take up to 3 years off work after having a baby; the system is designed so that mother and child are together until they start kindergarten. I can't help to wonder if that is what we should do.
Thankfully I can discard these doubts quickly by reminding myself of why I'm doing it and by putting aside the stereotypes I have in my head. Having Max for me has in many ways been about redefining myself as a person, but also about redefining the preconceived notions I had of motherhood. I have been working towards letting go of all those boxes we are supposed to fit in and finding what works for me. I realize now that there is no universal right or wrong answer in raising a child. Not only that, but I will need to adapt as he grows, and his needs and mine change over time.
So far, I have given him every second and every thought, and now he doesn't need that from me. He requires constant challenges and stimulating activities, and I'm just not the right person to give that to him. As much as I wished I was the type that could sit with him for hours and organize games and activities, I'm just not, and I am learning to be ok with that. Getting out of the way doesn't make me more or less of a mother, and he won't love me more or less because of it.
Today, as I sat in his classroom and watched him interact with the daycare staff and the toddlers in his group, he explored new toys and didn't even look at me once. All I was feeling was happiness. I am so happy that we have given my baby boy the confidence to explore, the safety to be independent. He knows that no matter what, I will be there for him always. When his time was up, and they told him to go to mommy, he calmly approached me and gave me the biggest hug he had ever given me. He was telling me we were both ok and reinforcing that the bond between us would never be broken.
I am sure this will be good for him, but it will also be good for me. And you know what they say: happy mom, happy life.
So what is next for me? What will make me happy? That is the next big question.