My work shift ended five minutes ago and I’m racing down the back roads towards my son’s daycare center filled with feelings of guilt and anxiety. Today was my first day back to work and Luca’s first day at daycare, a full day without daddy or papa or anyone familiar to him. What have I done?
I remind myself of how very fortunate I was to be a stay-at-home dad for almost a full year since Luca’s birth. Like most parents who had this opportunity, I enjoyed every single moment but as the date approached, I was actually looking forward to going back to work. Being away from my job as a special education teacher allowed me to appreciate how much I love what I do. My day consists of working with kids with special needs, tailoring the best education plan for them, and helping them to understand their unique ways of learning. I mean, how can you not want to go back to this job?
As I focused on the positives of going back to work, I also reviewed how great daycare would be for my son. Luca is a very social kid and being around other children and new adults will be a rewarding experience for him. As much as I try to give Luca an environment rich with learning opportunities, I admit to giving in to some Baby Einstein TV while I was catching up on housework. A daycare center will be able to offer Luca a wider range of experiences. Plus, we took our time and carefully selected a wonderful daycare facility. My positivity was radiating and I was completely convinced of this win-win situation. Little was I aware that this excitement was lined with a minuscule layer of guilt that was slowly manifesting in my subconscious.
At work today, it was easy to lose myself in the first-day-of-school exhilaration that was thick in the air. Students with their new back-to-school gear, parents grinning from ear to ear as they wave goodbye to their kids, and teachers refreshed from the summer holiday and ready to get back to work. I bounced around helping where I was needed and catching up with colleagues and friends. Many of my conversations today included one of the following snippets: a delighted question about how my son is doing while I shared some pictures off my phone or a heart-felt pat on the shoulder and a “So, how are you doing?” to which I instinctively replied, “Great!”
Great! Great? Was I really? Should I be? What a minute! What have I done? Why have I left Luca in a strange environment with all those new people? Is he okay? Is he wondering where I’ve been all day? Is he calling for me? Has he spent the last few hours crying his little face off? What time is it? That guilt I didn’t know existed reared its ugly head and made me begin to question all that positivity I was feeling earlier. My chest felt a bit tight. What kind of a monster am I to take any pleasure in this day? (I know, dramatic and irrational, right?)
I spent the rest of my day avoiding people, buried in my desk and trying to look busy with paperwork. I put on my happy face when it was needed and all the while staring at the clock, waiting for the exit bell.
Should I call the daycare? They’ll think I’m nuts. I think I’m nuts right now!
The bell finally let out its blaring screech and moments later, my tires let out their own screech out of the parking lot. I have to rescue my son!
Before I entered the daycare center, I took a moment to calm myself down, wipe the sweat off my brow, and took an extra long breath. My husband texted me “Wait for me, I’m 2 min. away”. Together we rushed over to the infant room window. I peeked in, not knowing what to expect. To my delight I saw Luca giggling and playing with one of the room helpers. We poked our heads in and called out his name. As soon as we made eye contact his face lit up with a huge smile and he wiggled his little hands up at me. As I grabbed him tight, he nestled his face into my neck and I showered him with kisses. What an incredible feeling of pure and elated joy! He looked over my shoulder at his papa and then reached his arms over to him too. While they shared a snuggle, his teacher told me about the amazing day he had. He played well with the other kids, ate all his food, slept for a nice nap, and really enjoyed sing-a-long time clapping and waving his arms. What a relief! I couldn’t be any prouder of my little boy!
I guess I worried for no reason; but worrying is one of my natural states as a new parent. I understand that as we begin new chapters in our lives, we will need to learn to adapt and adjust to changes. I also know that not all of our new experiences will have such a happy ending. So as I as I write this blog tonight, I am taking a conscious moment to reflect on the emotional roller-coaster ride I took today and to fully enjoy this small success.