This Tuesday was my 5-month old daughter’s first day of daycare, as I will return to full-time, in-person teaching on Monday. Though we have left her with a babysitter for a few hours (even went to the actual movie theater on my birthday!), mostly I have been with my girl or within a quick Target-dash drive from her every minute of every day since her birth.
This, of course, has been exhausting. Baby care — all day, every day — is not for the faint-hearted. And, as every new parent I know has echoed, Single parents? “We’re Not Worthy”!
But, being with my girl for such concentrated time has given me a front-row seat to the biggest game in town: the dawning of consciousness. Watching newborn HB stare for minutes on end at the corner where the shadows intersect. Watching as she incrementally begins to understand that our cat, Stella, is also a being — one whom she can pet, albeit with grasping, groping pudge-fingers. Watching her face light up like Times Square when her dad comes nearby…
Front row ticket to the miracle of life.
And now: Leave it.
Leave her. Leave her to be watched and known by those other than us? G U T T E D.
Today is Day 3 and I feel hardly more compos mentis than I did on Tuesday, when I stared into space for minutes on end, my brain molasses as I (not so virulently) tried to kick it into gear.
I mean, What about the night prior when I laughed maniacally at the proposition of getting to nap any time of the day for as long as I want wherever I want?? What about the gossamer plans to “actually do some work” before I show up to school Monday morning? What did I actually do on Day 1 of daycare? Stared at the wall. Took a bath for as long as I could stand not “doing something.” Talked on the phone with a friend for almost an hour, which I really felt as mere distraction from my preoccupation with where and how and what my daughter was doing.
I don’t even think I ate lunch.
So much for the freedom it was supposed to give me! HA!
On the phone with my friend that day, I told her that at least the daycare posted updates about my girl. Her naps, her diapers, her mood. And I got delightful photos of her and another baby her age just staring curiously at one another while on tummy time.
But what I said to my friend, too, was that this is truly the end of an epoch. From now until she’s 18, she will (for the most part) spend 40 hours a week outside the house. Outside the sphere of my ability to observe. Outside my ability to witness. She is already starting to live a life that I am not privy to, one that will include her own joys and challenges and friendships and mistakes. (I joked that I might as well buy her one of those diaries with a lock on it!) She is, starting now, embarking on a life bigger than the circle of our home.
“But,” I told my friend, “at least I get text updates. There are no text updates in heaven.” (To which my friend, a parent herself, cried, Don’t tell me that!)
Yet, of course it’s where I go! I’ve said that as soon as they’re out of the womb, they’re leaving for college. And they are. Parenthood, a continuous — daily, hourly — progression of allowing and introducing your child into the world. How … lonely, yes, and yes, How exciting.
I told J early on (I mean, she’s only 5-months old — how much earlier can it get!) that I am aware that HB isn’t “ours.” She’s not mine. She’s hers. She’s her own person, with her own destiny. In many ways, we are (were?) simply the vehicle for her to get to the starting line; the rest of the path is hers to forge and discover. We are her stewards — shepherding, ushering, guiding — but she does not belong to us. And how exciting that is for her. How exciting — and laden — it is a responsibility to have a life of one’s own.
And, how mournful, aching, and hopeful for me and for J that she’s arrived to claim it.
There are no text updates in heaven. But there are at daycare. And until such a day when I can no longer receive missives about or from this ineffable bundle of cheeks and wonder, I will celebrate the brimful utterance of her very existence.