g was excused from his first ever day care last week. His provider and I agreed that he wasn’t making any progress toward adapting to being without me, for any amount of time, and it was clear to both of us that the provider wasn’t equipped to handle the situation. He explained to me that he had never encountered anyone quite like g, who breaks down completely from the moment I leave to the moment that I return, refusing any sort of distraction, food or drink, a particular mix of terrified and stubborn.
Although I am undeniably concerned, I am not particularly surprised. When g was just an infant and I still had what I believed were realistic aspirations of returning to my research, I would occasionally leave him with a nanny. She came often to our house, even while I was there, so g knew her well. Still, I would come back home to descriptions of a baby who never stopped screaming, refused a bottle, resisted sleep. As soon as I returned he would nurse for long periods of time and collapse. At the time, I felt an intense need to be with him but it was clear that, as powerful as it might have been, it paled in comparison to his need for me.
I adored A, the day care provider that I had chosen for g. He cared for just 6 children, all around the same age, out of his lovely home. Although at first he might have given me the impression that he did bong hits for breakfast, based in part on his long dreadlocks and the old bus parked in front of his yard, it was clear from observing him that he was calm, patient and nurturing and that the kids in his care were very happy and surprisingly mature and independent. I hoped that it might be the right place for g.
I was wrong. As I gathered the last of g’s belongings, I asked A if he had any suggestions. He couldn’t seem to think of anything but then he paused. It’s not your fault. I’ve seen parents who are the root of their children’s separation anxiety and you don’t act the way they do. He hugged me sympathetically. On one hand, I want to believe that he’s right. Nobody wants to be responsible for their child’s struggles. On the other hand, if my behavior isn’t behind this then how much power do I have to change it?
I knew that this stage would be difficult. Still, I looked forward to this chapter. I am ready for the gradual process that will one day leave me mourning the little boy who once needed me so badly. I didn’t realize that an early failure would leave me feeling this way, gasping for air, watching in fear as the walls seem to move closer and closer.
Underneath it all lies the one question that I hesitate to speak out loud. I keep it safely submerged beneath the surface not only because I fear the answer but also because I know that there will probably never be an answer. Just a question. Does he know? Older children who fear separation have usually experienced a loss. They have discovered far too soon that nobody is forever. g lost the person who he would have been closest to in the entire world, his identical twin, a part of himself, in utero. Maybe, just maybe, he has carried this trauma in his tiny consciousness for all of his short life.
I know that it probably violates every code of parenting to think this way but sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe, if this baby that I am carrying makes it, he/she could be there for g, make up in some way for the sibling that he lost. Perhaps a living sibling would make him feel more secure, less terrified of being alone.
Maybe, just maybe.