We had our first attempt at childcare today. In the morning, I was feeling a deep, echoing sort of sadness, the type of melancholy which threatens to gush up like an oil well, the deeps of which would make you a wealthy woman if you could trade in those sorts of riches. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself what Margaret, my PND counsellor used to say: “Approach, don’t avoid.” I also skyped Julie this morning in London, who reminded me that this could just be one step – a day, a few hours really, at someone’s house, playing. I didn’t have to make more of it than that. I didn’t have to think about all the days to come, when my baby might be crying for me, or I for her.
I have been re-reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and taking bubba to childcare reminded me of his description of the feeling a human got when pulled too far away from her soul – she would ache with the deepest longing, like an elastic band stretched too far.
OK, so maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. But the thought ran through my head, driving down to Kristy’s house.
By the time we got there it was about 10.15 am and I had already been through all the reasons in my head why this would not work out. When we entered, I put bubba on the playroom floor and sat down a few paces away. Most uncharacteristically, bubba did not cry. She did not cry, in fact, for a full hour – and then she whinged, just because she was hungry. She played. She touched Kristy. She sang, eventually, in her own way – the bababa lalala way she has of imitating sounds. She watched the other little boy play (the other kids will start after school holidays), and occasionally looked as though she might like to play with him too, except he was busy packing and unpacking the toy supermarket.
True that she checked where I was sometimes. True that she whinged for her breastfeed at the usual time. And when she started getting tired, I carried her around a bit while Kristy fed the other child his lunch.
I grew cocky. I decided to experiment with putting her down for a nap. I bundled her into her sleeping bag and put her in the portacot. She cried, for about a minute or two, then went quiet once she found her thumb. I grew cockier still. I went out to lunch, calling my husband from the cafe with a positive report. And then I found myself, with my child cared for by someone else, and with nowhere I needed to be for another 30 minutes.
My mind expanded with the possibilities. I had only hoped for two hours of childcare, two days a week to begin with, afraid that bubba would not handle much more than that. Now, I started to think what might be possible if I did not have to breastfeed. If she grew accustomed to the bottle? If she learned to take this midday nap at Kristy’s? If, in short, she grew used to childcare? The hardest moment had been watching the other boy cry for his daddy – then I felt the guilt reignite – but he was soon quietly sleeping, having simply been overtired. And presumably, my baby was sleeping too.
I got back to Kristy’s on the dot of 50 minutes – the sleep cycle. I could not hear a baby crying. I tiptoed hopefully to the glass door, and there was my bubba, sitting on Kristy’s lap. She had red eyes and had only slept for 5 or 10 minutes, before screaming the house down. Kristy had been comforting her and distracting her as well as she could. When I took her, she demanded full body contact – not this piddling, holding her up so she could stand on a chair. Not adequate! Visions of my 10.00 am to 4.00 pm drained away, and I watched them go as regretfully as I had earlier dreaded being a simple 2 hours away from my bubba.
I brought bubba home and agreed with my husband that there were 2 options: to go cold turkey, or to transition her in slowly, and then transition me out. We have opted for the slow transition. Am I being too namby pamby? Should I throw her in the deep end, so she will learn to swim? Babies are far more resilient and adaptable then we give them credit for, and bubba only knows what is acceptable because we show her what is.
I know it’s weird and unfair, but those 30 minutes gave me a taste. I started out mapping ways to not have to put her into childcare for another 8 months, and I ended up resenting the fact that I can’t put her in for a full day yet. I wanted more, and bubba crying for me meant that I can’t have it, or I choose not to have it, not yet, not until she is OK with it too. It did something to my sense of freedom, and made me remember my obligations. It is time to get her more used to the vicissitudes of life, but gradually.
I am grateful that I have the flexibility to take this sort of approach. I am impatient now for the approach to work. Time to myself – an almost forbidden elixir. I’m sorry bubba. Soon.