Should I really have just left him??

 The little person who owns me.

This week Hollis started yoga camp.  My mom saw a little blurb about the studio in the paper back in May and it looked like something Hollis would enjoy while also getting our collective feet wet regarding separation and autonomy.

It's Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays from 9 am to noon.  The kids do crafts, eat a healthy snack the parents have packed and if diapers need changing that's taken care of, too.

I've never left Hollis with anyone he didn't already know before so this was a really big deal for me.  We talked a lot about yoga camp and he was excited before he ever showed up and I felt I'd done as much parenting prep work that I possibly could.  Day 1 went swimmingly.  Hollis gave me lots of hugs and kisses as I departed and happily dove into a gigantic toy-filled trunk.

When I came back at noon he was very determined to tell me how I had been gone.  "Mommy, you were gone!  You were GONE!  But you back.  And you hold me.  Kiss.  Fun!  Mommy, you were gone!  But come back."

I held him tight and he waved goodbye to Amy and her assistant Remie and they told me he'd done wonderfully.

Day 2, same scenario as I left: lots of kisses and hugs, no signs of strain, and when I picked him up we had a similar conversation.  Unlike Day 1, however, we had plans with my step-dad for lunch which Hollis was very excited about... until, that is, I wanted him to sit in a booster seat.  He clung to me, wouldn't lift his head and sobbed big, hot tears.

What in the world???  This child is the antithesis of clingy.

I picked him up and held him on my lap while he continued to lurch with sobs and bury his face in my neck.  Obviously yoga camp was taking its toll.

That brings us to Day 3 and it's now 10 am.  He was very excited to return to camp and see his friends (that'd be Amy and Remie, naturally).  He shoved his Crocs into a cubby and ran to the yoga room where half a dozen kids wandered around kicking balloons, reading books, or pulling toys out of the trunk.  His warm little hand gripped mine and pulled me inside.  Remie said hello while Amy balanced three little girls on her knees.  And Hollis just kept gripping my hand.

That's when I knew today was different.

I parent Hollis with a keen memory of my own experiences as a shy child and also with the educational awareness of a counselor - I want very badly not to project my own childhood personality (and issues) onto him - I want him to navigate this world as Hollis, not as Jessica's Son, so when I knew he was going to protest me leaving I was truly torn.

Do I stay and hang out??  What message does that send?  That when he's a little scared Mommy will stay and that makes everything better? Or do I go?  And the message is that Mommy leaves and I can  rely on myself to get through a tough spot of emotions?  Or do I leave and send the message that MOMMY LEAVES when I'm scared?

It took a couple of tries before I could get out of his sight.  By that point Amy saw our little drama playing out and she came to intervene. She asked him if he'd ring the bell to start the class, to be her special helper.  He warmed up to that, but kept a wary eye on me.  He gave me more kisses and I took a deep breath and walked away as if to the front door, out of his line of sight.  I could hear him crying and Amy talking to him about kicking balloons and playing with his cement truck toy.  The cries weren't alarming other than the fact that he was upset and the receptionist, who had a direct view of him, confirmed to me that his face was affect-less and he was just making the crying noise to show his displeasure with the scene.

I told her that this was new for us and had to take another deep breath to fight back the tears... I was sweaty and dusty from the trail, basically looked a hot mess, and felt vulnerable enough without breaking down in tears in front of a complete stranger.  I managed to ask, "You'll call me, right, if things get worse?"

She smiled and said, "Oh, of course."

I walked the last few steps to the front door and walked out into the blanket of heat that is Austin in nine in the morning to the woeful moans of an angry child filling my ears.

And I still don't know if that was the right decision.  By leaving him under (mild) duress am I upbraiding all the work I've put into instilling complete trust in me and the adults who love him?  Is it wrong to leave him?  Or, shit, is it just my own personal abandonment issues wreaking havoc on my perspective??

In any case, my plan this afternoon is to take him to get some ice cream and reconnect and cuddle and reassure him that MOMMY ALWAYS COMES BACK.  If not for him, then definitely for me.

What do you guys think??  Any suggestions?  What did you do to get through this kind of anxiety and milestone?


  1. no experience with this one yet! especially since jude *loves* his sitters house and doesn't give me a second glance in the morning. get out woman, i'm with my friends now.

    hopefully others will have tips, but oh, it sounds hard. and like you did the right thing. you handled it gently but firmly and it sounds like he's getting the concept. some days might just be harder on both of you than others?

  2. We go through this scene at varied times with Nola (who is now 4.5) at school (which she loves and has a great time at every day). She knows we are going to come back, she loves her friends and teachers and often does roll play at home where we are those characters in her life, and her teachers often let her email us photos or written notes to update us about her day. But still the mornings are often filled with tears of separation. we have talked to her teachers and they assure us that they only last seconds after we leave, but still it is a hard moment to watch your child cry for you as you walk away. I don't know if this is any advice, but it is a perspective that I have come to with my child that sometimes the crying at separation is the norm for the child and you have to walk away because if you didn't they would miss the fun and good day they would have if you did not leave them (Nola often tells us upon pick up that she's had the best day EVER!). But those minutes of tearful kisses and the walk to the car listening to tears is heartbreaking. And this is even after a couple years of the routine of preschool. I feel you Momma! Hang in there. You are doing great and giving him great opportunities and support. And we often do ice cream or focused family afternoons after particularly sad drop off days and those really are appreciated.

  3. i've had experience w/both sides of this coin. as a preschool teacher (before having babies myself) i saw first hand how upset the kids would be while the parent is still deliberating but immediately (and i do mean right away) was completely over it the minute the decision was made and the parent was gone. on rare occasion did the tears last longer than 30 seconds. and when/if they did it usually meant the child didn't feel well.

    on the mommy side of the coin, i left grayson at a Tot Lot when he was 2. he tore my freaking heart out with his face, tears, voice, bear hugs and i lost sight of what to do. i didn't trust he'd understand it was only for a short time and i'll be back. i didn't want to scar him by leaving. but i went. and i cried. and i waited like a stalker in the car for them to call. they never called. they always said he stopped crying before i probably even reached my car. that's what i focused on, not the dramatic scene that always happened before leaving him.

    it's pretty much one of the hardest things to deal with when the time comes b/c it's difficult to figure out which is the right answer. the way i saw it (past tense b/c he's been home w/me ever since turning 2.5 b/c we moved and he hasn't started preschool again yet.) i wanted him to have the life experience of being okay without me and knew i had to start sometime. doesn't mean it won't tear your heart out of your chest in the meantime but even that part doesn't last very long.

  4. Well, Tori's still pretty small, but some days when I leave her at daycare...or heck, when I just walk out of the room at home...she'll start howling. It kills me, but I usually just keep going, because I don't have any choice.

    But oh, those howls...they break my heart.

  5. I just leave. But I also have instructions that if the crying continues for longer than 5 minutes to call me. And it never has.

    Transitions are hard for kids. My daughter has been known to cry at daycare drop-off and again at pick-up. And when I leave her with her dad so that I can make a quick run to the store. It's her way of dealing with that shift from one place to another. I know I'm leaving her with compassionate people who will help her through so she is not alone. And I also know that if I made a big production out of it, it wouldn't avoid the tears, but it might make it all worse. So I turn around and leave and feel like a heel.

    I think it's normal when you've been apart for kids to be a bit clingy afterwards. It's part of the processing. They don't want you to leave again. But eventually they learn that you come back.

    That's what I do, anyways, but every kid is different. You have to figure out your comfort level and what works for you.

  6. The first time I left Avery at preschool (She was almost 3), she was totally fine at drop-off. And she was totally fine when I picked her up. Until I asked her about her day and she's all, "Mommy, I kept crying for YOU and you just weren't there!"
    Good gracious, it just about did me in. But you know what? She was fine the next day, and the more she saw of me picking her up, the better she was.
    Through separation, messy as it was at times, she learned that I will always, always be there to pick her up. Other than that first week? We've had no issues.
    So in short--you did the right thing. And each time will get easier. (For both of you)

  7. My little guy is going to start preschool in the fall so to prepare him I have been leaving him with the daycare at the gym where I work out. I have noticed that when I drop him off he will cry, but the teacher tell me that right when I leave he stops. When his dad drops him off, he goes right in. No crying. When I go to pick him up, he is always happy to see me. I think no matter what it will ALWAYS be hard, but it is the best for them.

  8. oh crap something to look forward to, that sounds so hard! I just came over to your blog from the comment you left at Scary Mommy, I really don't understand why we can't all just be respectful of one another, well said.
    So my bambina is only five months, my current upper limit for leaving her alone (translation with her daddy) is forty three minutes and then I panic, please tell me it gets easier?

  9. I don't have any suggestions, but I wanted to drop by and thank you for your comments on Scary Mommy's blog. I so enjoy reading her blog and was a little taken aback by the breastfeeding blog comment. I really like how you handled it. Thanks for your words.

  10. I haven't quite experienced this, however, Greg has been quite clingy these past few months- normally I get him involved in something if I have to leave and let him with his dad or grandma....so I really dont know I wonder if I am doing somethin wrong myself! Sigh sorry not much of a help

  11. That's hard. I have heard it said that the first days is the best, the second is good, the third is bad! They start to realize that there is a pattern going on here! :-)

    The girl found starting preschool very hard. She loved it when she was there, she was fine at drop off but she always cried when I picked her up. Maybe it was the realization that I had been gone. Maybe to make me feel a little bad. :-) Who knows. It lasted 2 months. Now she doesn't care when I leave.

  12. Oh, right there with you, in all the ambivalence and guilt and resolve and … yeah. We go through phases with preschool drop-off (preschool is twice a week for about four hours each time) where he's totally fine and "see ya!" and then back to clinging and the big round tears and the trembly chin, and it just breaks me.

    When I babysat, I got to see firsthand how kids get over it really quickly once the parent's gone, usually, but as a parent it hurts my heart. I don't know if the "getting over" is an adaptive, survival measure or a true reconciliation to the situation. In other words, is it, "Well, crying won't do any good, apparently, so I might as well stop for now and play half-heartedly," or is it "I'm not really upset now that I realize my friends and toys are here and I will see my mom later, so all is well"?

    Um, if I come up with an answer, I'll come back. For now, I'll just say you're not alone. Sigh.