In younger days, when I contemplated parenthood, I had this idyllic dream of raising my children in community – surrounded by family and friends who loved and helped to nurture them. My children, I mused, would be confident and relaxed and outgoing…and happy to spend time with any caring adults who came their way. They would not be tied to my apron strings, they would be set free to flourish in a warm communal setting. Lofty ideals…and still rather cherished. But there is no accounting for circumstances. Life as we are leading it right now has meant that Kazuo has spent rather more of his days with just Mama than I would have ever envisaged. It is a happy existence, but it makes for a slightly different view of raising a child than I imagined. It also means he has a few more hurdles to overcome right now as he is getting used to being with people outside the family.
This month I have begun the process of helping Kazuo to settle into nursery school.
He has been a brave little trouper really. For such a self-contained little person, he is developing a fairly healthy sense of his own situation. Yesterday was our last official settling session. It is two weeks since the last as he has not been too well in the intervening period. As we drove into the school carpark he said ‘No, no nursery school’…and my heart sank a little.
At the previous session, I left him for 20mins. First I announced my intention, then I gave him a hug goodbye, and satisfied myself that he was intent on pottering about in the tiny kitchen and would find some toys to play with. Then I retired to the reception area and watched him on the CCTV. Thank goodness for modern technology! I could see that he was happily engaged for most of the time, and that the nurse in charge was very attentive. As I returned he had a little meltdown, having just really noticed my absence. But some cuddles from the nurse, followed by hugs from Mama seemed to do the trick. Our dialogue for the following week went along the lines of ‘Mama left, Mama came back, cried…’ ‘Who cried’ ‘I did’…this last part was eventually replaced with ‘The babies’ – either a little displacement, or an observation of the slightly more needy nature of several of the much younger babies in his class. I choose to think the latter…
Yesterday Kaz was a deal more reluctant to let me leave. But in a firm but Mama-like manner I hugged him, said ‘Just like Dada going to work, I will come back’, waved out the classroom window and retreated for 40mins to the reception and the CCTV. He did remarkably. The staff ratios were good enough to allow him to have the attention he needed, when he needed it. So he got hugs during a couple of tearful episodes, and they managed to ascertain that he likes to read Charlie and Lola (since he seems a little obsessed right now this does not surprise me) and got him a special book to read. Last night he also told me that he cooked ‘ham and sausages with the lady’ in the teeny kitchen.
The overriding narrative is still ‘Mama came back’…which allows for time to discuss the fact that I will ALWAYS come back…and that the ladies at nursery school are lovely…and that it can be fun playing with the kids. But a little overwrought episode post-nap later in the afternoon, when he thought I had left him and in fact I had just gone to do a little cleaning in the bathroom, suggests that deep down – or perhaps not so deep – the separation is quite affecting. Which of course is to be expected, but nonetheless heartbreaking.
I know that he will become a stronger person for these interactions. I am fairly confident that we have found a safe and stimulating and caring environment for him to learn a little independence. I know that these days it is normative for children to be cared for outside the home and that advocates of daycare focus on potential social and developmental benefits…But for all that, he seems so little to be making this transition. And I am concerned that maybe he might not really understand it…so I am doing all I can to help him feel safe about it…
The best we can say is that ‘Mama came back’…’cos she will ALWAYS do that.