Separation anxiety

That look.
That look.

Dear RJ,

Today you had trouble sleeping. It was daddy’s turn to be home with you, while mummy went to work.

I kissed you goodbye before getting into my car and buried my nose in your neck, a gesture that is supposed to make you laugh in delight. Instead, you scrunched up your face and turned your head away. Your fists were clenched into a tight ball and your eyes looked at me imploringly. “Don’t leave me,” they seemed to say.

Leaving for work inevitably brings a mixed bag of feelings.

There is the elation of getting to spend a day wearing “proper” clothes and in the company of adults.

There is sadness at the thought of probably missing a milestone moment, like the time when you turned over and I wasn’t there to witness it.

There is guilt at the fact that Daddy will have to tend to you, all alone.

There is pride in your growing independence and Daddy’s natural aptitude at caring for you, there is happiness that this time together will be a special Father and Daughter bonding time.

There is confidence that I am doing what is right for our family, that my choice to work is not only for economic necessity but also for my own long term personal growth – and this example will serve you well in the long run.

There is some anxiousness about how you will fare away from me. Will you reject the bottle? Will you make that shrieking inconsolable cry? Do you think that I have abandoned you?

It was a busy day at work today, I barely had time to pump twice, instead of the three times I had planned to. Gone was my 11am, 2pm, 5pm pumping schedule that I told myself I would keep.

Sitting in a quiet room in the office to pump, I tried to assuage any sense of insecurity at the paper-thin blinds that separated me from the pantry. As I sat with my back towards the window, pump dangling awkwardly like a weapon, I felt painfully aware of the few inches of glass between the rest of the office and me.

“Can they hear my pump?” I wondered. “Can they see me?” Under such circumstances, it’s hard to relax and let down.

I browsed videos and photos of you on the phone, and found myself chuckling quietly at your antics as the milk trickled out. Daddy says you have the potential to become a football player, and the video of you aiming and kicking at your toys certainly shows great promise.

I thought about the way your eyes follow me constantly, watching my every move like a wise owl. I remembered the solemn pursing of lips that earned you the nickname “katak”, and the relentless stare that has become your default facial expression.

Two feet behind me, someone washed a glass in the sink. I was in the middle of removing my pumping bra, feeling vulnerable and exposed. At the back of my mind, I tried not to let it bother me. Try not to worry about supply dropping and whether the milk will go bad during travelling time.

Back to the desk to work. Replied emails, trying to rush and finish everything as soon as possible to get home. I told Daddy I would cook dinner.

An hour later, I’m still stuck in office, frantically finishing up. Finally, I’ve tied up all the loose ends. I carefully remove the milk from the fridge and pack everything in the cooler bag. The fridge smells bad. I throw away some old bottles of unclaimed food. Make a mental note to get the cleaning lady to defrost it. Hopefully you won’t notice the smell.

Quickly exit the building. Call Daddy to apologise (again) that I’m late. He doesn’t pick up. Feel guilty and wonder if it’s a good day and he’s cooking dinner, or if it’s a bad day and you’re crying non-stop.

Rush hour is over, but there is still some stretches of congestion. The car in front of me has a problem in the Smart Tag lane. Try not to be frustrated at being held up. Feel guilty. Feel entitled. Feel bad. Promise myself I’ll make it up to you both, later.

Ten minutes later, Daddy calls me back. No sooner do I say “hello” and hear his reply, when you start wailing in the background. My heart lurches to my a sinking pit in the middle of my stomach.

“She was feeding fine at the bottle”, Daddy says, “until she heard your voice. Then she started crying.”

Not sure how to feel. Am I happy that you missed me? Should I be worried about you, My Overly Attached Baby (MOAB)? Are you becoming too clingy?

When I get home, I quickly put the milk into the fridge. I find you both in the bedroom. Daddy is holding you, because you didn’t stop crying since you heard my voice. Your eyes find mine reproachfully, then light up in a smile.

Is this what separation anxiety is about?

Take a deep breath. It’s only the third day that I have left you alone with Daddy. It’s okay. I only go into office two days a week.

One bad day doesn’t make you a bad baby, or us bad parents.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

Love, mummy

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