The night before, I spent hours packing her diaper bag. What would she need? Diapers, of course. Wipes. Diaper cream, maybe, though she hasn’t had much of a problem with rashes yet. Multiple changes of clothes. Blankets. An extra pacifier. Bottles. How many? One? Two? Or is that not enough? Breastmilk. 15 ozs? I’d read somewhere that she would eat way more than I expect. 5 bags? But a couple of them are smaller. Better do 6. Baby soap, because what if she has a blowout that makes it all the way up to her hair, even though such a blowout has never happened before?
I had been anticipating this day for two months. Some days, I chose not to think about it, and others, I couldn’t keep my mind off it. It has loomed large on the horizon of my summer.
That morning, I zipped the frozen bags of breastmilk into a freezer bag and clipped Isabel into her stroller for the short walk to her new daycare. We’ve been fortunate to find a neighbour who has run a home daycare in the past and was happy to take on our itty bitty baby. To have someone so close, someone we saw on a semi-regular basis before entrusting our daughter to her care was a huge relief, especially here in the city, where daycare can be astronomically expensive or completely inaccessible.
Stepping away from my daughter that morning was difficult, but not impossible. I coaxed one last smile out of her, accepted the reassurances of our smiling neighbour and returned home, which felt suddenly empty, despite the rambunctious presence of the dogs and the excitement for the activities of the day.
Isabel was being cared for. It was time for me to just be me.
I quickly learned how impossible it is to turn the mom off after being steeped in it for 2 months. The first thought on my mind as I arrived on campus was finding the bathroom with the breastfeeding/pumping room I’d read about on the school’s website, so I could make sure Isabel would have enough to eat the next time she goes to daycare. The second thing on my mind as I settled into the first orientation session of the day was whether or not Isabel had accepted a bottle from a stranger in a strange place. The third thing on my mind as the afternoon wore on was whether she was napping or spiraling into her fussy cry, the one that usually hits around 6pm and continues on and off until 10pm, When 5pm hit and my academic advisor continued talking for 5 more minutes, I got antsy in my chair, ready to bolt out the door the minute everyone else started packing up.
And yet, despite the tension I felt throughout the day, there were brief moments of an odd kind of joy. Standing in line at Starbucks with no stroller to maneuver through the doors. The bursts of excitement I felt as the faculty talked about the concentrations I’m interested in. The itch I felt to get started, to get back to reading with purpose, writing things that count for something, talking about something other than how well she napped, or the long walk we took with the dogs.
When I got back, she was awake, calm, happy to see me, even. I gathered her up, took her home, fed her and snuggled her. Despite being away from me all day, she was normal. Not fussy in retribution. Awake, but content. Asleep at her normal time. Her evening was exactly as it always is. She was fine, and I was more than fine.
It was hard, leaving her. Throughout the day, I felt a bit like I’d forgotten to put my pants on, or like I’d left home with the door wide open. But, I’ll get used to that feeling, knowing that at the end of the day, we’ll be together again, her, happy and well taken care of, me, mentally stimulated and excited about the new direction I’m taking, the work I’m doing. I’m sure there will be times when I second guess myself, wonder if this is really what’s best for her and for our little family. There will be long nights scrambling to finish projects and long days, with the dishes piling up and the dogs missing out on their long walks as I juggle baby and school work.
But I know we can do it, now. I know it will all be ok, that we’ll manage just fine and, in the end, we’ll all be happier for it.