Leon’s first day at daycare was yesterday. Minh and I wanted to start him on his new schedule about a week before I went back to work so that if it affected his sleep, I wouldn’t be completely screwed before I started work. In theory.
Minh has said before that I tend to get more obsessive-compulsive when I’m stressed. But I chalked up my enthusiastic organizing to being a first-time mom and just “being prepared” in general: typing up a two-page diatribe about Leon’s favorite ways to fall asleep and how to mix his milk so he’d drink it, laying out his outfits for the week, packing up three boxes with crib sheets, diapers, wipes, receiving blankets, bottles, and spare clothes. This weekend I made copies of his care instructions and emergency contacts and tucked them in every corner of his belongings. I organized the breastmilk chronologically and picked three gallon-sized bags from different dates to minimize the likelihood of sending him with all freezer-burned milk. I even bought formula in case he refused to drink any of the thawed breastmilk, and I made sure to label the bottle “LEON NGUYEN – — USE AS A LAST RESORT ONLY” and tape the top shut to deter any exhausted teachers from resorting too quickly to formula. I made a custom ringtone for the school and downloaded the school’s app so I’d be receiving notifications in real time.
I was prepared. Leon was prepared.
But on Sunday night, after I nursed him to sleep and slowly crawled into bed like a ninja, I found myself suddenly crying as I thought about how scared and alone he’d feel on his first day. Why did his mommy drop him off and leave him with all these new people? Babies don’t understand object permanence until about 10 months, so he wouldn’t know that I’d be coming back to get him in just a few hours. In the past 11 months, he had never been away from me for more than two hours. He’d be by himself and Minh and I would be helplessly trusting strangers to care for him. I wandered out of the bedroom and Minh consoled me enough so that I could go back and fall asleep.
On Monday, Leon and I made it to his classroom and I attempted to review the drop-off notes that I had printed and typed in the app. The teachers were distracted, attempting to soothe multiple babies while changing crib sheets and therefore seemed uninterested in my concerns. I swayed Leon, assuring him (and myself), “You’re going to have a good day, right?” The lead teacher must have sensed the anxiety in my shaky voice — she cooed, “Take your time, mama” as she stretched a green sheet over a tiny mattress. The fact that all the babies were crying at once was not indicative of the skill of the teachers or the quality of the school, I told myself. All babies cry, all babies cry, all babies cry…
I left promising the teachers that I’d be just a phone call away and urging them to call me for anything. My phone is usually on silent, but when I got home, I turned up the volume so that when they called I’d be able to hear it.
Minh was working from home yesterday, so he suggested we visit Leon during his lunch break. When we arrived, Leon was getting his diaper changed and most of the babies were napping. The teachers seemed less frazzled than before, as at that point they’d probably finished their beginning-of-the-week routine. Leon’s lead teacher took some time to chat with us and assured us that Leon was adjusting very well, and she even made some suggestions for us to use at home. I nursed Leon to sleep and we slinked out.
I felt better after our positive interaction with the teachers and learning that Leon was doing well. I spent the afternoon running errands and Gchatted Minh as I suddenly choked up as a thought sneaked into my head: Leon’s a big boy now. He’s doing so well without me, he doesn’t even need his mommy anymore. Minh assured me that “he did so good because [I am] so good with him” and of course he needs me so he can learn even more.
When I picked Leon up that evening, he was extraordinarily content. He even slept a new record — almost six hours in one stretch! Minh and I got tons of information about his day in his daily report — diaper changes, feedings, naps, activities, even a couple pictures.
This morning, I had an entirely different frame of mind. I dropped Leon off in the morning, then drove home, pumped and ate breakfast, and laid down for a solid nap before getting a massage this afternoon. Nothing to see here, move along.