The hardest part of motherhood has been watching my child go out into the world and establish his place in it – without me.
Granted, LD is not yet four years old so this is possibly a little premature and almost certainly melodramatic. But stay with me. Because one day a week, this little boy heads off to daycare and spends pretty much the whole day without me. More and more, I see his little personality unfolding and wonder how he will be as he grows and learns to assert himself in his environment.
Daycare has been an important factor in LD’s development. He has noticeably changed and matured during his time there – and there are a handful of behaviours I wish he hadn’t picked up. But for the most part, I see how exposure to other children has shaped his social skills.
What I find difficult is not being able to be there to witness it. There’s this major formative experience going on in my son’s life and I am missing it. I wish there was a hidden viewing room with two-way glass like cops use to interview suspects, where I could watch him do his thing.
Picking him up one afternoon, I overheard one of the staff mentioning to another little boy’s father that there was a birthday party invitation in his bag. Yep, the father was saying, he’d seen that. And as I collected LD’s bag, I just had a pang of sadness for there was no such invitation in his. To be honest, LD had never mentioned the child whose party it was so chances were, they didn’t have much to do with each other. But it occurred to me that LD didn’t really mention any child with any regularity. He’d never referred to anyone as his friend. I wondered whether being at the centre only one day a week made it difficult to establish a friendship – especially when many of the other children were full-time and already settled into familiar groups.
But then, I wondered if it was something to do with LD. I wondered why my little boy didn't have any friends.
I thought about one of my dearest friends and the relationship LD has with her little girl, PC. Literally months and months can pass but when those two get together, they are as thick as thieves. I thought of another dear friend, Saucy, and her little ones and how LD loves playing with them so much that when it’s time to go home, the mother of all meltdowns will descend upon us.
So outside of daycare, he was easily and actively pursuing friendships with other children. And yet, I began to notice that each time I picked him up from daycare, he was playing alone.
B and I discussed the situation worriedly. Maybe we should take LD out of care altogether? But when I questioned him about whether he liked it there, the answer was a resounding yes.
More than ever, I wished I could be a fly on the wall.
One morning, I dropped LD at daycare only to discover that I had forgotten his backpack. By the time I returned to the centre with the bag, the kids were outside playing. The playground runs parallel to the road and I slowed as I was driving away, trying to catch a glimpse of LD. I pulled over to the side of the road, put the engine into neutral and then I watched my kid play.
And it was heart-wrenching.
There was nothing unusual or upsetting going on. LD was happily dragging a rake back and forth on the tan bark-covered ground but I could see that he was orbiting around one particular little boy, Jamie. LD kept looking to Jamie. I sensed that he wanted to play but Jamie was sitting on the ground engrossed in his own game of trucks.
Watching my kid trying to engage with another kid, I just felt such an ache in my heart. He was alone and making his way in the world. My baby was navigating social interactions all by himself. All normal and age appropriate stuff but stuff that will give you a lump in the throat if you stop and really see it.
Within minutes, Jamie had abandoned the trucks and now he and LD were running over to a climbing frame. They were playing. Together.
And I just thought I might cry.
I was consumed with the idea that my little boy might be lonely, that he might be seeking out friends but unable to form a connection. I worried about what that could mean, whether there were bigger implications.
As it turns out, LD and Jamie are now fast friends. The last update I had from staff was that they spent an entire day kissing one another. And if they’re not kissing, they’re running. And running. Two peas in a very naughty pod.
All this while I was worried about if my kid would make friends when I should have been worried about who. It seems LD has aligned himself with the alpha dog of the group – the most energetic and crazy. The most like him. Sigh.
Who am I kidding? I'm just thrilled he has a friend! And to choose the most popular kid in the room? Well, it's not a bad strategy.
What a powerless feeling it can be, to be the parent. Even when your child is still very little and for the most part, reliant on you, there are certain things over which you have no control. Whether other children will like them, play with them, invite them to their birthday parties. I guess I knew all this shit was part of the deal but I don’t think I counted on it starting so soon.
Thankfully, I realise it has only started for me. LD has no idea about birthday parties he won’t be going to and can be just as happy playing on his own as he is playing with others. He is blissfully unaware of the complicated angst his mother is currently working through.
And long may that be the case.