By Emily Page Hatch
I’m eating a turkey sandwich in between seeing clients when I hear my email inbox ping. It’s my son’s daycare; they’ve emailed a video. I lower the volume on the computer and slide my desk chair in. I see my 13-month-old grinning at his daycare teacher, Amy, with the dyed hair and multiple piercings. Amy is gentle and sweet, and my son loves her for loving him. She is crouching across from my boy coaxing him to walk toward her. In her high-pitched voice, she says, “Go buddy!” And with my mouth agape, I watch as he goes. He takes three jerky steps and falls into Amy’s arms. “Yay! Yayy! Yayyy!” she squeals.
Then the video is over. I watch it ten more times, dizzy with joy and pride. I call my coworker over to watch it. She smiles, but her eyes are solemn. “I know it’s hard,” she acknowledges, not to be there for that. We are therapists, so attuned to feeling, empathy seeping from our pores.
My son has been close to walking for months, standing sturdily on two feet, hesitating to take that leap, to let go of my hand. But he let go of Amy’s today, beaming as he bounded forward. He is thriving at daycare, like I knew he would, blossoming from babyhood into toddlerhood, in spite of not being with me, or because of not being with me? I miss him so much my throat closes up.
A confession: I didn’t have to work full-time. I had a very flexible, part-time job and spent much of my time at home. But I chose to take a new job when my son was 6 months old, a Monday through Friday gig, with a long commute. It was a dream job for me, with better pay and professional growth. But as a new mother, it would be hard; I knew this, and yet, I worried more that I was failing at being a full-time mom.
The newborn months had shaken me. My baby could never get enough milk, and I could never get enough sleep. I knew no other way to soothe him than offering my breasts, and I knew no greater pain than nursing for the longest time. He wanted only me and I loved him more than life, but I was crumbling under the weight of his needs.
One day, we walked downtown and I attempted to wear him again in the Ergo carrier. Last time it hadn’t gone well; maybe I hadn’t fastened it right. I had read about the benefits of wearing your baby; the attachment, the convenience, the sense of security. I wanted to be a baby-wearing mom. I also wanted to free my son’s head, so he wouldn’t develop a flat spot.
With difficulty, I strapped him across my chest and set off down the road. Frost coated the March ground, but within minutes we were hot, my son a little furnace squirming to get out. He fussed and cried immediately. My heart rate quickened and so did my steps. He spiraled into screaming, and I broke into a near-jog, sweat dampening both of our stomachs. Five minutes felt like fifty.
Finally, he stopped. He fell asleep, and I could breathe again. But I stayed on edge, keeping my stride. Babies in motion stay asleep; I had learned that much thus far. We made it downtown and without thinking, I ducked into a store, not to buy anything, but to do something that felt normal. The door chimed and my son awoke, fists clenched, face scrunched up in a fury. He roared. I bolted out of the store and tried to comfort him under my breath, “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.”
He is probably hungry, I thought. He was always hungry, needing to nurse. I needed to know there was more I could do to calm him, to enjoy him, to actually leave the house. He hated the damn Ergo carrier, and goddammit, I hated it, too. It was far too hot and I feared he couldn’t breathe. It kept him facing toward me, while he preferred to look around. It wasn’t right for us and that was okay, but I couldn’t think when he cried.
Siren wails filled the street as I trudged up the hill home. A few people passed by and their looks seemed to say – what are you doing to him?
Why wasn’t I better at this?
By the time we reached home, my body roiled with rage. I wasn’t mad at my baby; I was mad at myself, and tired, so tired. I unclipped one side of the carrier and took my son out. I propped him up on a Bobby. Then I ripped the rest of the carrier off and flung it in the other room.
Something in me snapped. I picked up a book and threw that too, and a shoe, and my purse – I whipped these items into the foyer and shrieked. It felt good, so I did it louder. And louder. I couldn’t stop. My pure frustration voiced for the first time.
I took a breath and suddenly noticed the room was silent. My son had stopped crying. His eyes searched mine, looking for the mother he knew. The room came back into focus. I ran to him and scooped him up. I put him to my breast and sank into the couch and sobbed.
He deserved better.
In an office an hour away from my baby, I get emails with photos of him finger painting and playing in the sand. I get daily reports of what he’s eaten, how he’s played, what he’s made, and how many poops he has taken. He’s sent home every evening with crafts he’s created during his highly structured day. I feel sure he is learning more at “school” than he ever would with me, that his teachers stimulate him and exhibit more patience than I ever could.
And yet, I miss him, almost more than I can stand.
Seven hours after my son takes his first steps, I pick him up at daycare. I creep into the room and wait for him to notice me; it’s my favorite part, observing him like a fly on the wall. After a few seconds, his eyes meet mine and he looks away, like he can’t handle the excitement. He looks back at me with a mega-watt smile, and then at his teacher, as if to say, “She’s mine! That’s my Mom!” His eyes dart back and forth and he giggles with glee. I lift him up into an embrace and press his soft cheek against mine.
My legs feel wobbly as we head out to the car. I carry him, this boy who can now walk on his own. He and I take new steps together every day, and I’m learning – like birds learn winter is fading and it’s time again to sing, like flower buds make their home in the earth and get ready to bloom – that our love is enough.
Emily Page Hatch is a freelance writer, therapist, and mother. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Babble, The Huffington Post, The HerStories Project, Modern Loss, and other publications. You can connect with Emily on Twitter @EmilyPageH or visit www.emilypagehatch.com.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.