Even when a young child is settled into a out-of-home early childhood community, there are those days when they simply don’t want to be away from home and family. When your child is crying and reaching out for you at the door during a drop-off, it can be one of the toughest moments for working parents to move through. When I experience this, I am so grateful for those loving individuals who are there for my daughter to turn to after I drive away.
Most drop-offs with my 3-year-old Sylvia are easy. We have our routine: hug, kiss, high-five, handshake, then a strong "bye!" She runs to the window, blows me a kiss, points at the birdfeeder on a nearby tree, throws me a hug, then if I’m lucky, I’ll see her step down from her stoop and off she goes to play and settle in with her classroom community.
But once it a while, it’s just hard to part. Recently, her big sister got to stay home from school with a fever. She only became are that Nina wasn’t leaving with us until we were literally walking out the door.
Naturally, her first instinct was, "I want to stay home, too!" True disappointment took her over when I said that she couldn’t. I offered a small snack to distract her and it worked enough so that her legs, which she’d locked in rebellion, eased up enough for me to snap her carseat. She didn’t like the cracker, so we decided she could throw it out for the birds. It’s fun to throw food out the window! I ran around to get in my seat while I tried to keep the conversation going about whether or not birds like cheesy crackers.
The 5 minute drive was eased by my Toots and the Maytals CD. Not only is it hilarious to her that someone is named Toots, but it’s truly feel-good music. This got us there. I again used distraction to get us out of the car. Once inside, we did our routine, put lunch in the fridge, changed from boots to sneakers, signed-in and washed hands.
I hung out a bit longer than I usually do and played with some playdough. I said that I’d stay for one more creation. Of course, when that creation was made, I had to follow through. We tried our regular goodbye routine, but the one high-five became two and "one-more-hug" started. It’s so difficult, yet so important to actually make the break in these moments.
She ran to the window, but before I made it out of the door, I heard, "Mommy wait! Uppee upppee." She needed another hug. I gave her all my strength, then we tried again. I made it out the classroom door but before I made it all the way out of the building, I saw through the glass that she’d flopped to the floor, devastated. The teacher asked her what she needed and then mouthed to me, "She’s asking for one more extra hug." I walked back in actually knowing this may only make it harder. We embraced and she said, "I wanted to show you something ... special ... (a pause, as she tried to think of something) ... look at the back of my shoes." I acknowledged the Puma logo and then it was REALLY time. There was no going back now.
I made it all the way outside, looked in and saw her crying hard. My sweet little girl fussed with her fingers to make the I-love-you sign and still pointed to the birdfeeders through her tears. It took serious strength to get myself into the car and drive away.
When I arrived to work, I sat in my car for a few extra minutes, trying to decide whether or not to call and check on her. Her teachers have always said, "Call whenever you want, we’re happy to talk with you." I took their word for it and dialed. The conversation is always the same and that day was no exception. "She’s fine, it lasted about one minute, she’s eating her snack, talking with her friends, being Sylvia." That’s all I needed. All (or at least most of) the angst dissipated. And then I went on with my day.
Days like these deepen my gratitude for the skilled providers who take care of my daughter. In a high-quality early childhood program, little ones facing challenges like these receive more than just love and empathy. They’re guided through their feelings and learn that it’s OK to feel sad because happiness will follow. They learn about trust and human connection and about the power that they have within them to be strong.
Parents obviously benefit, too. Knowing my child is in a safe, stimulating and nurturing environment allows me to be at my best when I’m at work. And the very best part of all -- returning to pick her up later that day, as soon as she saw me, she said, "No mommy, don’t come. I don’t want to go home."
Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association, and the mother of two young children, Sylvia, age 3, and Nina, age 5, who both spend time in a local child care program. She can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.