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These Are the (Daycare) Days

Throughout life, the word torture has taken on different meanings. When you’re little, it’s being held down and tickled. In high school, it’s waiting weeks for ACT score. As an adult without kids, it’s watching your aunt pass slowly. Now, as a mother, it’s the only word to describe leaving your daughter at daycare.

Perhaps it was naive to think that because you were going through IVF as a single parent, the most difficult part of motherhood would be getting pregnant. Looking back, you envy that smug, inexperienced version of yourself. Ignorance was bliss. You saw childbirth as an end to the physical and emotional toll of in-vitro, and the start of something more familiar and simple. There’s comfort in being overconfident and security in believing you can handle anything.

And then you become a mom, and are quickly humbled. You don’t know how to get your baby to sleep, and you’re baffled when you’ve done your best, but she’s still crying – because your best used to always be enough. And then she gets older and more verbal, and tells you why she’s sad. She’s hurt or scared or, like the other morning, just wants to sleep longer. And then it’s even worse when you can’t meet her needs, because now you know what they are, and circumstances won’t allow you to soothe.

Because you have to get to work. So she has to get dropped off. And you can’t be late.

So while she kicks and flails in her carseat, you try to be empathetic and loving, while feeling equally impatient and stressed. You question whose idea this crazy working parent thing was, while also finding gratitude for both employment and motherhood.

“I don’t want to go!” she says.

And you have no convincing case. You can’t say, “But Mommy does,” because you’d rather be home, too. You can’t say, “It’s what’s best for you,” because she’s only two, and preschool for 2.5 hours would be more reasonable than daycare for nine. And so you respond:

“I know, but you have to,” because that’s the truth, but also not really.

So then there’s guilt. Not only does your daughter have only one parent, but that also means the one she has cannot stay home with her for even a few more years – at least until she starts kindergarten. Based on this reality, so many questions go through your head.

  1. What could you have done differently?

  2. What should you do now?

  3. Might things be easier if you worked from home?

  4. Will she have PTSD from these awful mornings?

You consult your own mom.

“Everyone on the block stayed home when I had kids,” she says. “That’s just the way it was.”

And for a moment, you wonder whether you were born in the wrong era, even fantasizing about cave people, where the women sat nursing all day while the men hunted. And then you chuckle.

Because how many moms do you know who are also amazing professionals? Marketing executives and researchers, lawyers and doctors? And how much better is the world because of their contributions? And also you remember – silly mommy – that if you were born much earlier, your IVF baby wouldn’t have been possible, and even if all the women stayed home with their children, you’d still be working, but childless.

So you take several steps:

  1. Consider a nanny combined with a few hours of preschool.

  2. Play on repeat the song “Mommy Comes Back” and read Lllama Lllama Misses Mama and Bye-Bye Time ad nauseum.

  3. Eat lots of junk late at night because worrying about nausea is easier than worrying about your child.

  4. Bribe her with cartoons in the morning and ice-cream at night.

  5. Talk to your sister and friends, who all concur that daycare drop-off is brutal.

You think about this last point, and how being in good company only makes you feel slightly better, and heals your daughter not at all. You ask the pediatrician how long she’ll be suffering and if or when you should make a change. And you go through your days, beaten down by the weight of an unbearably heavy heart.

“You’ll miss these times,” your friend with grown kids says. “Even the hard ones.”

And you realize he’s right. That it’s difficult now, but that one day, maybe in a few weeks, perhaps years, she’ll be skipping to school, barely looking back, and these mornings will be distant memories. And so you remind yourself to give each moment equal care, the ugly and beautiful, bumpy and smooth, for all of it together is proof you’re not just alive, but also living.

Mommy On.

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