Our morning routines are pretty well set at this point. My husband gets up a little early and starts to get ready. Then I get up and start to get ready. Then we tag-team getting our toddler ready, and then we are off — out the door and off to work, school, and daycare — a toddler and two adults who are still just half ready, at best.
It’s not always easy. It’s not always pretty. There’s usually some stomping of feet, some huffing and puffing, and even a few tears (and that’s just from me!) and at least one change of clothes (for me and the toddler). And it hasn’t always even been this easy.
When I first went back to work full-time, my husband was deployed. That was tough. I mean, wow. That was beyond difficult. I am still not sure how we got through those eight months and how I survived my return to work in the midst of solo and first-time parenting fiascos. Our daughter was younger and I was more tired, and man, sometimes I can’t even remember those early days.
Except that I can. I can remember each and every morning with utter clarity. Why? Because every morning, I was having to make a decision to take my daughter and place her into the care of other people while I went off to work.
I loved my job. I still love my job. Financially, even if I didn’t love my job, I would have had to return to work. Our family needed my income.
But that didn’t make it any less heart- and gut-wrenching to leave my daughter in the arms of someone else each and every day. The pain of that suffocated me. The memory of that pain suffocates me still.
As I was leaving that same daycare this morning, dropping our daughter off as I do every morning before heading into work, I watched a mother (who, I swear, must have been just at her 6 weeks postpartum mark) dropping off her child.
The moment I saw her walking toward me, I literally couldn’t catch my breath. The memories of what she was feeling at that exact moment flooded desperately back into my brain.
I saw her first from down the long hallway. I had just come out of my daughter’s classroom where we finished our own morning ritual: hug, high fives, kisses, and I love yous. Then, she pushes me out the door and waves at me through all four windows looking into the room — two on the door and two more off to the side. We blow each other kisses, and then she runs toward her friends waiting in the classroom. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of them hugging. I walk, smile on my face, holding tight to the memories of our routine throughout my entire day.
And then I see this mother. She is walking slowly compared to my hurried gate, ever concerned about getting to work on time. She is cradling and cuddling her baby who is nestled against her chest, head snuggled up underneath her mama’s chin.
My hands once wrapped around my daughter that same way, the soft tufts of her hair tickling my chin as I carried her down that same hallway. Now my hands were empty and my chest suddenly felt cold with no baby nestled there.
She has her face against the very top of her baby’s head, taking in the sweet smells of newbornness that we all know, you know, the way we all do. I found myself unconsciously taking a deep breath in, and remembering the smell that I sometimes still catch on my daughter when she first wakes up or right after a bath — that newborn smell, that smell that connects me to my daughter.
She closes her eyes for long moments at a time. I know, Mama. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, Why am I leaving her here? Is she going to be held enough? Will she miss my smell and my touch the same way I will miss hers? Will they know what each of her cries mean? Will she forgive me?
Oh, Mama, I remember that feeling, all of those feelings. Those “I don’t want to leave my baby” feelings — I actually still have those feelings every single day.
Oh, Mama, I know all too well how you feel.