When Jessie was three I put her in a pre-k program at a private school. She had an August birthday, so she was the youngest in the class. I sent her to “school” because of my two children she was my “social” child. I assumed she would love it.
My son was on his second year at this same school, and he was making the adjustment to being a little student. It was a school that went from pre-k to 12th grade, so not just a daycare.
When I signed Jessie up there were two things I had not counted on. One, the teacher Nathan had when I put him in the three-year program was retired, so Jessie had a different teacher. And two, Jessie might have been social, but she liked that social time to include me. I didn’t count on her having awful separation anxiety.
I had already been through Nathan’s separation anxiety which was to the max, and that’s an understatement. The first weeks I dropped him off at pre-k he pulled my ponytail and had to be pried off of me. He chased me from the room and out of the building and had a line of teachers running after him. He cried, he carried on, and he was really upset with me. But I felt it was the best thing for him because he had to learn to be away from me and he was about to turn four (he has a November birthday so he is the oldest in his class).
He eventually got used to it, but every day when I walked him into the classroom his teacher would say, “Hello my special friend. Come sit next to me.” And Nathan would go sit by her. Throughout the day, if she moved her chair an inch, Nathan moved his an inch too. He also did this in the four-year class the following year with the next teacher. Both of those women are in my book as, “Teachers I Will Remember and Love for Life.”
So, when I put Jessie in “school” I assumed everything would work out. She was my social child! She loved people and playing with other kids.
It didn’t happen quite the way I thought. She cried so hard that the teachers asked me to sit in the classroom when I dropped her off, assuming that she would get used to it and I could leave. But every time I left, I got the call to come back and get her. This went on for three weeks.
One day, I decided to try and just drop her off. We were late and her class was on the playground, so I thought she would play and not notice me being gone. She loved the playground.
When I left, I started walking towards the exit, but the classroom next door called to me. It was empty because the school had not replaced Nathan’s now-retired teacher. I watched through the windows at the back of the room where I could see the playground and Jessie’s two teachers, who sat on a metal bench painted green, while Jessie stood sobbing in front of them. Jessie is loud, so she was wailing and snot was running down her nose.
One of the teachers, whose ears probably hurt from Jessie’s boisterous cries, took Jessie by the hand and led her to the back door to the classroom. I heard her say to Jessie, “You sit right here until you decide to stop crying.”
My heart broke into a million pieces.
I left my perch in the empty classroom and went to the room next door where my baby was crying in the doorway, now hysterically heaving cries from being punished and left by her mom, and I told her to get her stuff and let’s go home.
The teachers saw me come in and I told them I was taking Jessie home for the day. They looked relieved.
I was upset. How was I ever going to get her to love these women when they just ignored her while she cried and even worse, they punished her for being sad and anxious about my leaving?
Nathan’s teacher the previous year gave Nathan something that taught me what Jessie required and wasn’t getting – a transfer of love. She needed them to be “second mommy,” a source of love, in order to let go of my hand and take their hands for those three and a half hours a day.
I was at my wits end and about to call it quits on the whole school thing after that day. But I wasn’t going without at least telling the principal and those teachers what I was witnessing. I wrote a letter expressing my view that my daughter needed a hug. She needed to get to know them. Maybe some of the kids didn’t care who handled them, but my daughter did. She needed to know they saw her, heard her and most of all, loved her.
The next day, the principal asked me to give them another chance with Jessie. While the rest of the class went to Spanish in another classroom, the main teacher stayed behind and had one-on-one time with Jessie. She hugged Jessie and played with her and talked to her.
We never had a problem again. After that day, I dropped Jessie off at 8 and picked her up at 11:30. She didn’t cry, and I never got another call to come get her because she was too upset to stay at school without me.
I was my daughter’s advocate, but I never gave it much thought. I had a good teacher in Nathan’s previous teachers who showed me that an anxious child can overcome the fear of separation – by seeing what they did, I knew what Jessie was not getting.
Fast forward to last night.
Jessie is now 9, almost 10. She has been having me read her stories from my book, Mom’s Soul Café, at bedtime. I read her a story called Heart Strings Sing, which talks about me dropping Nathan off at school and letting him know I was with him all day because our heart strings were connected and would never be broken.
After the reading, Jessie said, “Did you tell me that too, when I went to school?”
“Yes, I imagine I did tell you the same thing,” I said.
Then she said, “I remember the teacher making me sit in the door because I missed you and was crying and you came in.”
“I did do that,” I said.
“I think you took me home that day,” she said.
“I did take you home,” I said.
“I was scared when they put me in the doorway and I was happy you came in to get me,” she said.
As a parent, I never know if I’m doing the right thing. I could have let her cry. I could have trusted those teachers know better than me and let her sit in that door, punished for her anxiety and love of me, but getting used to the fact that we must separate at some point. But, I couldn’t. Every fiber told me that I needed to get her and hug her and let her know that I would always come back.
To this day, I’m not sure why I went into the classroom next door instead of leaving. I often left and let them call me if they could not get her to calm down. But this day… this day, I stayed.
And I see now that she remembers it. She remembers that I cared, that I came for her in her time of need.
I’m so glad I trusted myself that day, and other days too. There’s information everywhere telling moms what to do, how to do it – a lot of “shoulds” if we listen too much. Motherhood can be confusing.
After my conversation with Jessie last night, I found myself trusting myself more today. I know I make mistakes, but that day I listened to my gut, and today, after my talk with Jessie last night, I’m so glad I did.
Jessie gave me a gift last night with her memory and I’m grateful.
Today, I trust myself to listen to my heart when I make decisions – for my children and for myself.