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Getting there on time

The thing I worried about most when I first left my son with strangers was getting back on time.

Until he started going to preschool two mornings a week, I’d never left him with anyone who wasn’t related to me. The preschool had hours: 9 a.m. drop-off, 1 p.m. pickup. This seemed very reasonable.

Until I left the first day. He was crying, of course.

My standard joke is this: When my son was born, the doctor gave my husband scissors to cut the umbilical cord. But really, she should have left it to a professional.

I didn’t leave my son without him bursting into tears for years after that. To this day, he has to have a clear picture of where I am going and what I am doing and when I will be back. That umbilical cord has stretched in length, but it’s still as strong as ever.

So, on the first day I left him with strangers, he was crying. His teacher was very kind. She was a former lawyer named Marie who had decided to be a preschool teacher while she spent time raising her kids. I bet she’s a lawyer again. Being a preschool teacher had to be much more stressful!

My son cried, and she said, “It’s OK, Mom. Just go ahead and honk when you drive by!”

She had a smile on her face. I’m sure that mine was tragic. She probably thought I was worried about him, but I wasn’t.

I was worried about the 1 p.m. pickup time.

What would happen if I was late? What if I got stuck in traffic? What if I just plain forgot? I was known to do things like that.

I had spent my life making sure that helpless people didn’t depend on me. I didn’t think I was quite dependable enough for that. I had been a teacher, but I taught adults only. Children? I just couldn’t trust myself not to ruin their lives the way mine had ruined my life! Well, OK, not my whole life, but being mocked by your seventh grade math teacher about your weird name in front of the whole class is, I would say, rather limiting.

For the next six years, I made everyone call me “Sue.”

What if my son made everyone call him “Bob”?

What if he learned that he couldn’t trust me?

What if his teacher had to drive him home in her ballet shoes?

OK, that was something else that happened to me. My mother did forget me, just once that I remember. I was at ballet class, and one by one, all the other girls left, and there I waited. Finally, my teacher called my mom, and and afterwards she hung up and told me that she was going to drive me home.

Shocking! Ballet teachers don’t drive! They dance!

Plié. Pirouette. En pointe!

Could I trust her to get a car from her house to mine? Apparently I could, though I remember that she was the first person I ever knew to:

  1. drive in ballet shoes (not toe shoes, thank goodness)
  2. drive two-footed, the left on one the brake, the right one on the accelerator.

But I don’t think I was scarred by this experience. I remember it, but it didn’t have any of the life-changing effects of being mocked about my name. (I have to give my mom credit here: She had 5 kids, and she forgot me only once. I had only one child for the first four years, and I was petrified that I’d forget him, over and over!)

I didn’t, come to think of it, become a ballerina. But there may have been more practical reasons for that, such as the fact that I have two left feet.

I do, however, drive one-footed, and my heavy right foot blasted down Soquel Drive toward the preschool. I got there, the first day, by 1 p.m. And with a few exceptions, I got there before 1 p.m. for the next three years.

But still, it amazes me that I was so concerned. I could make a doctor’s appointment on time. I could make a hair appointment on time. (Unless I forgot it, which was not uncommon.) I could certainly make a movie on time. So why was I worried?

It must have been the reality of that sweet, dependent little body. That unusual feeling I had that someone needed me. Needed me and only me. A teacher, in ballet shoes or otherwise, wouldn’t suffice. Even a teacher with a J.D.

One o’clock in the afternoon. Do you know where your child is?

Still, to this day, it amazes me that I left him at all. Perhaps, in retrospect, the doctor should have handed me those scissors.

Clearly, I needed them.

Posted in Parenting, Psychology.

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