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First steps to letting him grow
As I watched my little boy being carried into his first nursery session crying, screaming and reaching out for his daddy, my heart broke. We'd handed him over to a relative stranger to be carried off into the unknown and there was nothing more we could do to comfort or reassure him. Instead I had to walk away with tears streaming down my face and simply hope for the best. Hope that in some way I'd managed to prepare him enough for this huge change in our day to day life.
For the last three years we'd spent every day and night together, hardly ever apart no matter what the time, how I was feeling, or where we were. I'd been his PA, his teacher, his chef, his cheer squad, his playmate and his comfort through the good times and the bad. It hadn't all been through choice, but I can't say it mattered because I'd chosen to be a parent and knowing how quickly the early years go, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Though, as I got home with visions of my three year olds screaming face flashing through my head, the first thing I felt was guilty. In my efforts to care for my son how I felt best, had I made this step harder? Was there something I could have done to make these first steps to independence easier for him? Despite knowing we'd had the happiest three years together. Despite seeing my little boy grow into someone who is not only kind, but too clever for his own good, all of the voices that made me feel like I was 'just' a stay at home mum crept into my mind and made me feel responsible.
Then, as I tried to imagine what my son could be doing while we were apart, I couldn't help but feel angry because although I'd tried to help my son, CVD-19 had come along and made this step even more of a challenge. It had of course taken away our chance to build on social skills, but it also robbed us of the chance to have a good look at nurseries and preschools before we signed up. Instead we'd had to peer through windows wearing masks, which felt more like we were planning some criminal activity than choosing a place to prepare our son for school. Plus, to make things worse, it had taken away the nice gentle settle in sessions from us. Not being allowed in the building had meant we couldn't get to know his key worker with him, or watch him settle into play. We had to send him to the unknown and hope for the best.
After I'd spent an hour with tears on and off switching between my guilt and anger, it was a relief to collect my son again, to cuddle him again. Who, despite being one of the most shy children I know, walked out of his room clutching a handful of drawings he'd insisted on doing on coloured paper, not white. The boy who refuses to acknowledge even the most familiar of faces with me sometimes had spoken to staff, spoken to children and made himself busy. Through my hour of anxiety he'd pushed aside his own fears and got on with things as best he could trusting that I'd soon be back for him just like I'd said.
I'd like to say that my anxiety stopped there, that after my son aced his first visit and showed I'd been doing something right all this time, everything else just slotted into place. But, unfortunately if I said that I'd be telling a lie because the next few visits were a rollercoaster ride. From wanting to go back and do some drawing, to welling up at just the thought of returning to nursery, we had it all. It was draining, and by the end of the second week I really didn't know if I could keep the nursery visits up. I didn't know if I was strong enough to help my son process all of the feelings he must be having at being left for the first time, having to get used to a whole room of strangers alone. I honestly just wanted to hold him tight and not let go, be there by his side like I always was and let him know everything was going to be alright.
I couldn't give up though, we'd not given up on anything before and I wasn't going to let nursery be the exception to the rule. I might not have wanted to send him to nursery before and it might not have been the beautiful little preschool with the sandpit of my boy's dreams, but it was the right place for us all for right now. It was close to home, timings were flexible and they had a programme to get my little boy ready for school in a way that I didn't know how. As much as I wanted to be with my boy and soak up the last of his preschool years, the timing felt right, I had to start the process of letting him go, of letting him grow up.
Reluctantly I pushed ahead, took the chance to visit inside the nursery, took my little boy for more settling in, reinforced all of the positives with him and listened to his concerns (mostly about yogurt). All to be told, just one week after I wanted to stop it all, that my little boy was ready to take his space. While my emotions were all over the place, he'd pulled it together, got on with his visits and impressed the staff.
At this point I'd love to tell you the pain was all worth it, that my little boy grew in confidence and learnt things I didn't know how to teach, but I can't because he only starts next week. I can tell you though, that we are doing this. It hasn't mattered that I haven't left my little boy for more than a few hours, that I haven't left him at a nursery before this, that he's had a limited social circle for the last year. We made the right choices for us as a family when it came to his care and he's doing an incredible job because of that. Our way of life certainly wouldn't work for everyone, and it's certainly not been understood by all, but it's worked. It might have been difficult to be apart at first, and still feels a little difficult now but surely that's normal, we all go through the struggles of separation from our children at some point of another however we choose to look after their care.
I know there will still be heartache ahead for myself and my little boy on our journey, I'm emotional at just the thought of him starting nursery properly. I'm even completely sure that I'll cry again, probably next week when he heads in for his first real session, but I still couldn't be more proud. He's done better than anyone could have expected and I can't wait to see what's still to come for him, even if it does leave me in tears.