Separation Anxiety v.2
Emily sits atop her mummy’s 8-month tummy, chubby legs straddling the bulge of her immanent sibling, cheek nestled into the crook of mummy’s neck. Oh, the sweetness. Mama and I chat of this and that – notably, their plans for Emily’s part-time attendance once Sibling has arrived.
Two days a week or three? Which do I prefer? Will two days be too disruptive for Emily – would three give better continuity? Do I care which days? Does it have to be the same days each week? Will we contract for three days or do pay-as-you-go?
We discuss the pros and cons of each possibility.
During all this time, Emily retains her pose, which, as mentioned above, is very, very sweet, but the longer it goes on, the more I know that mama’s in for trouble. Normally, you see, Emily would snuggle for a bit, then wriggle to get down and on with her day, bored of grown-up inertia. However, Mary has been on holiday, Emily has just had two solid weeks with Mama, and we’re all out of the routine. Emily, I suspect, is not going to head into her day without a fight.
And finally – “Okay, sweetie. Mama has to go to work. Give mama a kiss?”
“Nooo.” It’s not loud, but it’s filled with pathos. “Nooo.”
“Well, then, mama will give YOU a kiss.” And mama does. (Which is very, very good mama-ing. She didn’t coo and try to coax away Emily’s reluctance – which would only give it power and extra-strength durability. Instead, she exudes cheerful and upbeat confidence, modelling and thereby encouraging the desired behaviour. Well done!)
“And now,” says mama, “you can say ‘hi’ to Mary.” And with my assistance, we peel leech Emily off mama, and set her astride my hip.
“NOOoo.” (Which only goes to show that even Excellent Parenting doesn’t always achieve the desired results every time.)
“NOOooo.” A little louder, and Emily’s famed lower lip makes its appearance. No one does The Lip like Emily. (It’s really very sweet. When she’s aiming for severe, it rather detracts from the intent, but when she’s aiming for attention, it works awfully well. All we adults know better, of course, but once in a while, we crack under the strain… Which is not to say The Lip isn’t a sincere expression of a genuine feeling. It’s just a very Useful Sincere Expression. Who says toddlers can’t multi-task?)
It doesn’t work this morning, though. I plant a kiss on top of her head, say goodbye to mama, and begin to turn into the living room.
Emily pulls out all the stops. She turns her torso to her mama, she stretches her arms full out and grasps great chunks of air in her clutching fingers. “Mamaaaaa! Nooooo!” Big, fat tears roll down her fat little cheeks. Oh me, oh my.
I cast a sympathetic look to mama and sweep the child out of sight. Mama, distressed but wise, gives me a wavering smile and leaves.
(Anyone made too miserable by this picture? Anyone wondering why Mama is not comforting her child?
It’s because Mary has A Rule for drop-offs. A pretty-near carved-in-stone Rule (a rule whose exceedingly rare exceptions are determined only by Mary) which says, “Once You Have Handed Your Child Over to Mary, The Child Will NOT be Handed Back.” Because, when you think about it, that back-and-forth thing? Where you hand over the baby, and the baby cries, and you take back the baby, and the baby calms, and you hand over the baby, and the baby cries, and you… THAT back-and-forth thing?
It’s just not good for anyone. Not for you. Not for the caregiver. Not for the baby.
Everyone in this situation needs clear parameters. It makes for much less anxiety all round. So, once the baby is in my arms, the parent’s role is to say goodbye as cheerfully as they can manage.)
I give Emily another kiss and a squeeze, stroke some tears off her round pink cheek.
“Oh, Emily. What a thing to do to poor mama.” This really is how I see it, you know. I know Emily’s feelings are passionately real. She is not faking this for the effect. BUT – Emily’s feelings are also transitory. In another three minutes, she will not feel this way. In another five minutes, she’ll be playing happily, all trauma forgotten. But mama, poor mama, will carry that last image of her daughter with her for the rest of the day. The wailing, the reaching, the tears – her unhappy baby being swept away unwilling. Who’s really being traumatized here?
I’ll tell you this: It ain’t Emily.
“Okay, sweetie.” Who is now wailing on my hip. “Want a snack?” Most days we read a book when this happens. Today I happen to have a mild sore throat. Crackers are easier.
“Yaaaaah.” Tears, sob, sniff.
Off to the kitchen, back to the dining room, where the girl, sitting on my lap and still wailing, is presented with a cracker. She looks up through her tears.
Aaaawwwww! Even in her misery, she maintains her manners. She even manages a smile when, for no reason Emily can fathom, Mary busts out laughing. And, as I knew would happen, by the time the cracker is finished, she’s cheerful and chatty and ready to join the fray.
And that’s when I called mama, who, given that not quite 4 minutes have elapsed, had not yet even arrived at work. I hold the phone out over the tots as they trundle about the kitchen playing with blocks. I let her hear the happy chatter. Anna even gives a well-timed shout of laughter.
“Oh, she’s laughing!” Mama is giddy with relief.
(Yes, I know it was Anna, not Emily. Any good reason she needs to know that? Accuracy would be an unkindness.)
And we both proceed with our days, me to the now-happy crew of tots, and Emily’s mama with a different, better picture in her head.