Putting Winslow in daycare has felt more emotionally painful than the physical pains of giving birth to him. We spent last fall riding bikes, sitting by the river and having adventures in the forest together. Bumming around all day with this kid tops my list of favorite things to do, partly because he’s so enchanting, and partly because I’ve learned so many things about life through getting to be with his wise, old, owl soul.
Like the one time we went to the indoor play yard. He built a whole mountain 3 times his size, by himself, out of foamy blocks and triangles. He proudly stood on that mountain feeling vigorous, admiring his work, happy with his creation. I, the observer, witnessed an inner pride settling in his being, a glow overcoming his face just as two older boys noticed his mountain.
I suppose they thought it would be fun to play on it, or tear it down, but Winslow had other plans. Just as they reached the base of the mountain, Winslow, stone-faced, centered, not budging from his super-hero stance and lifting only his finger in an Obi-Wan wave, firmly stated, “Get off my mountain.”
Stopped dead in their tracks, a bit stunned, and stutter-faced, the forward moving energy that had propelled them toward the mountain, dissipated. Sheepishly glancing at each other, saying nothing, the boys didn’t even count their losses and found something else to do – 180 degrees the other direction.
…And a hundred messages about inner strength, triumph, leadership, boundaries, ownership, and peacefully getting rid of people who threaten to destroy the beautiful mountains we’ve worked so diligently to build revealed themselves to me in that moment.
He constantly affirms his love for me by telling me over and over and over, “Mommy. I love you. I love to be together.”
I live for this bliss.
But, all too soon, it came time for me to go to work. As much as I didn’t want this day to come, at least he gets to go to a school with teachers that view him as I do – A human being, only little.
The morning routine hasn’t changed since he started school. Basically, every day, he tells me he doesn’t want to go, and getting him there is my least favorite part of the day. We usually make it to the car through some form of bribery with a bag of Pirate Booty or the promise that he’ll get to play Angry Birds on my iPhone.
If I’m lucky, we’ll sing songs together on the drive to school. If I’m unlucky, he fusses the whole way…about not wanting to go. This hurts my ears, and my heart.
Still, we go.
And, I try to comfort him, making sure that he knows I’ll be thinking of him while I work. I also tell him that it’s okay for him to have fun at school without me. He’s not so sure about this.
Upon arrival, he peels his coat off, and we place his backpack on the hook just under his name tag.
“So, you have all of your things, sweetie. Your stuffed snail to cuddle with during nap time. Your hat and mittens for when you go outside to play…and your boots….I love you. Please eat lunch today, okay? Give me a kiss, I have to go now.”
…and then, the tears…and then, the scraping of the child off of the mother’s legs….and the weeping and gnashing of teeth as if it’s the last time he’ll ever see me.
We, drag ourselves to the window, and he plops his sad forehead against it. Sobbing.
I do my best to pretend things are fine as I rush out the door, but my heart races in anxiety. Every ounce of universal mother’s guilt rushes over me, and I wonder what kind of damage I’m doing by leaving him all day. I also feel the weight of my own sadness. I will miss him.
When there is snow on the ground, I throw snow balls at the window to try to make him laugh. He usually does, half-heartedly. I laugh too, half-heartedly. It never feels like “the best snowball fight ever.”
As I pathetically run to my car to make it to work on time, he pathetically slides down the wall away from the window. Sad. Slowly turning and staring aimlessly at the big room in front of him. Facing his new reality.
After a few weeks, I noticed that he’d begun engaging in the options available to him, and that he’s become a prolific drawer. He usually has no less than 6 or 7 drawings to bring home each day. Each day I ask him, in hope, if he’s been playing with some friends. Sometimes, yes, but most times, not really. Most of the time, he’s waiting out the day until I come to get him, he says.
One day, I picked him up, and he was sitting doing a craft by himself. He’s really into the melting beads, so he was organizing them in the shape of a heart.
I sat down next to him to observe him honing his craft. After he explained that after you carefully place the beads in the shape of a heart, you put it under the iron and they all melt together, a little blond, curly-haired girl had something to add and strolled over to our table. She leans in like she’s slinking up to a bar and mentions to me, “I’m gonna be leaving town tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah?” I’m intrigued.
“Yeah,” she says. “So, uh…” and she lifts her finger to draw my attention to Winslow, “I’m not gonna see him for a few days.”
“Oh. I see.”
Pause. Silence. Blank stares.
“He’s really good on the tires.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah. Sometimes I help him, but he’s reeeeaaaallly good.”
Winslow, sitting very, very still, eyes wide open.
As we leave, I ask him who that little girl is.
Even after a couple of months and an introduction to a very friendly curly-haired traveler, Winslow still struggles every single day.
Thus, do I. And we painstakingly engage in this conversation every single day.
“Mommy. Do I don’t have to go to school today?”
“Yes, honey, you have to go to school.”
“Oh, mommy. WHYYYY? I don’t want to go to school. I want to be with you. I love you!”
“I love you too, honey, but we get to be together on the weekend. We’ll go on a hike or ride bikes or do whatever you want to do.”
“Is tomorrow the weekend?”
“And then there are two weekends?”
Still, tears and frustration happen every single day when we say our good-byes.
This last Wednesday, I picked him up, and he was at his usual end-of-the-day craft table. There was a new little girl that I hadn’t seen before standing next to him, collaborating with him, together creating a melting bead star. They were the only two left waiting for their parents to pick them up.
Carefully, they arranged each colored bead into their place. Red here, orange there. Yellow. She noticed me before he did.
Pause. Stare. Blink. Blink.
She checked me out, head to toe. Lifted her little finger and pointed at me.
“I like your dress,” she said, dryly.
…And then I quickly realized that she had the same brown hair as I do. Same haircut, and, oh my gosh, the same gray dress, only the little girl version. And black boots! Just like me.
“Well, I like your dress too,” I felt obliged to return the compliment.
At that point, her daddy walked in to get her. She jumped in his arms and gave him hugs.
They re-connected after not seeing each other all day, and as they were about to leave she demanded that her daddy put her down.
“Winslow,” she called out, “HUGS!”
And she darted over to him to give him a hug before she left. He awkwardly attempted this embrace. “Hug.” She instructed. And he finally figured it out.
Interested in this moment, her dad and I stood there silently, in observance.
I felt like I was supposed to get all weird and say something like, “Oh, here we go. Just what I need. Little girls chasing after him already. I’ll be the only woman in his life, thank you.” But that’s not what I actually thought.
A form of tenderness and understanding washed over me. What a sweet sight to see two human beings, only little, giving each other hugs. Both of them smiling. Her rosy, plump cheek smashed right up against his rosy, plump cheek. A surprisingly long 5 seconds passed.
Her daddy told her it was time to go, and as she skipped out of the room with him, she exclaimed, “Daddy, I’m going to marry him!” Off they went.
As Winslow gathered his drawings, I asked him if she was in his class.
“Yes,” he says quietly.
“Oh. What’s her name?”
“Julia,” he says softly.
On the way home, I gently asked a few more questions about Julia.
“BRRBRBBBBBRRR” (a roll of the lips), he responds.
“What does that mean, Winslow?”
“Love,” he admits.
“Oh. do you love Julia,” I ask respectfully.
“Oh. What do you love about her?”
The next day, I told the story to his teacher. Turns out Julia is a good girl. “A leader.”
Also, the next day, I happened to drop Winslow off just as the kids were lining up at the brick wall to go inside from the playground. Julia was there already in her fluffy white tutu and black leggings. Pony tail. Bangs. Chuck Taylors. Very Busy.
As soon as she saw him, she ran right over and stood next to Winslow, joyfully saying his name. And they assumed their position in line next to each other.
And there they were, a line of human beings, only little, ready to go inside and begin their day.
And that day, there were no tears from Winslow, no clinging to my legs, no need for a half-hearted, one-sided snowball fight.
Only smiles, as he blew me kisses and waived. “Bye Mommy.”
Getting myself to my car seemed too easy. Knowing that I actually would make it to work on time, seemed too simple. The air was void of grieving energy. I took notice. What had changed?
Seems like God may have sent a sweet bundle of feminine energy to help Winslow balance out his emotions and settle into his new reality.
Seems like this might be the reason he loves her.