I am extraordinarily lucky. My parents own a small business and I’ve been able to work for their magazine publishing company in between having children. A job is always available to me. With both of my boys (ages 11 and 8) I went back to work when they were about 18 months old. I hired a part-time nanny in my home, and enjoyed the freedom of working five hours per day while they played and napped comfortably in our house. When they were 3 years old, they went to school.
This time around, with my daughter, I had the luxury of staying home for two and a half years. We were connected at the hip. She was definitely 100% a Mommy’s girl. I couldn’t walk from the family room to the kitchen without hearing, “Mommy, where you going?” I loved our days together while the boys were at school. We had play dates, took classes and went to Shabbat on Friday mornings at the JCC, ran errands, and sometimes did nothing at all in our pajamas.
My parents started to make noise about me coming back to work, and I was starting to feel the itch to wear grown-up clothes and interact with adults all day. I decided that my daughter, Billie, would start preschool at the JCC where my boys had gone. But she was younger than they were when they started, and she had been with me for so long, that I worried about how she would react to being left there. Would she cry? Would she nap? Would she eat her lunch?
As the day approached for both of us to go to work and school, I started to get nervous. When I thought about her not being with me, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was also terrified of how I would balance working, taking care of my three kids, and all of my other responsibilities. The day before she started, we visited her classroom. She was happy to play with toys while I dropped off her bedroll, changes of clothes, and diapers. I tried to tell her teachers everything I could think of: she’s a picky eater; she wakes up slowly; she has no interest in using the potty.
That night I hardly slept. I worked myself into a bit of a panic. I had already planned the conversation with my parents in my head that she just wasn’t ready to leave me and I would try again in a few months. I got her dressed. I got myself dressed. I packed her lunch and she proudly carried her backpack to my husband’s car. When the garage door closed, I cried. My husband called me about 20 minutes later to say Billie hadn’t cried—she just waved goodbye when he said he was going to work.
I got my act together and went to my first day at the office. I hadn’t worked there in almost three years. I obviously knew the staff and had an idea of what was going on with the magazines, but I hadn’t been in on the daily activities in quite some time. I spent the first day getting my computer set up, installing programs and email. I thought about my daughter a bunch, but I kept busy and just waited for the time I could go get her.
Then, something amazing happened. I got a text from her teacher! It was naptime and she sent me a photo of my little Billie Boo PASSED OUT on her bedroll. I jumped out of my chair and ran in to my mom’s office to show her the picture, then my dad’s office, and then to everyone else in my office. Then more pictures started coming in: she was splashing during water play, she was elbow deep in shaving cream, and she was eating a snack. I was elated, but as an experienced mom I knew that typically days two and three are harder, because kids know what is going on.
When I picked her up, she was happy to see me. Her teacher said she did great. She woke up crying from her nap, but they were able to calm her down. She even agreed to sit on the little potty for them. She didn’t really eat her lunch, and conned her way into a box of yogurt raisins. They said she just needed a few days to get used to their routine, but overall she had a great first day.
As the days went on, I braced myself for the eventual breakdown at drop-off time. It never happened. After a few days she got used to waking up there and to the routine. The teachers told me how amusing she was and how she kept them laughing all day. SHE EVEN STARTED USING THE POTTY!
I continued to go to work, a little less sad each day. Billie’s adjustment to school couldn’t have been easier. I started to wonder if she needed me nearly as much as I had thought.
About a week in, I got a call at lunchtime that she had a little fever. (Curse you, daycare germs!) I raced down to school to pick her up. On the way home, she told me she wanted to nap on me in her favorite blue rocking chair and not in her crib. I obliged and snuggled with her for her two-hour nap. I loved every minute of it. I guess she needs me after all… just as much as I need her.