How he will say “Da” in response to the teacher asking him if he wants to “eat eat.” How he will sit down in his regular chair at the small table with the other children. How he will look at them and tuck his napkin into his shirt as a makeshift bib, just the way they all have. How he will lower his spoon into a bowl of some kind of oatmeal with something pinkish that must have once been a berry. How he will wait to get his face completely covered in the stuff until you kneel down to kiss him. How you will ask for a kiss back, and he will press his whole face into your cheek. No tears. No sad face or smile. Just content resignation. How you will want, more than anything, to ask for another one, for a “kiss with sound” this time. For a hug. For more of him like this. But you don’t want to spoil this moment with a long goodbye.
You both do and don’t want him to miss you. You are so proud this big boy—1.5 year-old—knows you are leaving him for the day and at once aware of losing the baby who couldn’t imagine a day without you. But the big boy has resigned himself to this day because he knows you will come back, because you always do. And for him, your eventual and certain return is enough to settle into a routine. It is enough to keep him from crying.
And you want to tell everyone about this milestone because you feel like part of it is your doing. Because each of his successes feel like your successes too. So you tell his teachers, the ones who are in the room watching this happen, as though they weren’t aware that for the last two months he had been crying and clutching on to you at every separation. As though they haven’t been the ones there to comfort him and wipe away those tears. As though they haven’t seen this a hundred times before. Seen kids get to this milestone far quicker, especially the kids who come everyday, as opposed to the measly two times a week you bring your son. As though they haven’t seen kids take longer, some still crying every day despite all efforts—and you recall how your mom reminds you of this often, how you always cried, always.
And then on your way out, you tell his other teacher who is just arriving for the day. You tell her, “He didn’t cry! He didn’t cry at all!” And she beams, likely feeling the way you do, that this accomplishment is hers too. And you wonder if you talking to your son this morning helped. If asking, “Are you ready to go to school today?” when he climbed into his stroller to eat a waffle, made the difference. If when he answered, “No! Nini!”—meaning of course I don’t want to go to school, I want to go to Stroller Strides and play with my friend A____—your explaining how he wasn’t going to see Nini today, but instead, have fun seeing Ms. R____ and Ms. M____ and Ms. E_____ made the difference. And if this conversation gave him time to prepare for the separation on the misty mile walk over. If you singing that extra song is what did it or maybe his early morning wake up was responsible. Or maybe he used up all the tears last night at bedtime? Or maybe….
“He’s getting used to it.” The teacher says, “He’s a big boy now. It’s ok to be sentimental about it.” But as you walk outside, the rain having stopped and left the air still heavy with water, you feel, for the first time since he started daycare, light—unburdened by the guilt of leaving him there. You feel relieved and content. You feel resigned to feeling this way. Like you are a good mom in part because you need to leave your son for the day and not just in spite of it. You feel an array of sentiments, without feeling sentimental. And you think maybe, you can actually get more done because your chest isn’t hurting and cracking. Because you can just replay the image of him at that little table, with his bowl and spoon and napkin-bib. You can feel his dry face pressed against your cheek. You can feel his body telling you it’s ok to go. Telling you he understands he has to stay. Telling you, wordlessly, I know you’ll be back Mama, and I’ll be just fine while you’re away. And you feel, if only ever so briefly, like anything is possible today. Because this morning, your son didn’t cry. Because this morning, you both resigned yourself to being apart—to this separation being what both of you need and that being okay.