I've been putting off writing this post until I could type it out without crying.
I started back at work last week. I knew it was going to be hard, but had no idea I would be this broken hearted.
I can't remember the last time I felt this way but its a familiar feeling, only this time it's stronger than I've ever had it. Its similar to the feeling that comes from a severed relationship, or grief. Pain in my chest, something big and heavy sitting in my stomach. I can't eat, I can't sleep, I have a lump in my throat and I'm constantly on the verge of tears. Even as it gets easier and I cry less, I miss her so bad it feels like I'm without a vital organ like a lung or a kidney. Last week I lost 4 pounds. I'm calling it the Daycare Diet.
The hardest part of the first day was in the morning when I had to wake her up at 5 am. It was still dark out but instead of crying in protest she kept grinning at me. I thought I would die of guilt. You have no idea what's going on, I thought, trying to hold back the crying until after she left with her daddy. And when I closed the door I let it rip, sobbing while holding a breast pump to my chest, expressing milk before going to work. The rest of the day wasn't as bad. I was distracted by the adrenaline of being back to work after 3 months- the longest I'd gone without working since college- and the renewed joys of getting ready in an empty apartment, putting in hair product and using lipstick. But at the end of the day, seeing my baby's red eyes, knowing she'd spent the majority of her day confused and crying, I felt like everything was broken. When I'd called to check on her earlier the staff said she'd been pretty upset and was just starting to calm down and take a bottle. Apparently she refused food at first, which--if you've seen her chubby cheeks you know-- is so unlike my daughter. I felt trapped. I couldn't quit my job even if I wanted to- but felt so guilty knowing she was so unhappy.
I barely ate dinner and couldn't sleep. My friends at work tried to distract me. Danny did an impression of one of the other kids in the center to make me laugh. Apparently the little boy was lying on his stomach with his arms and legs out straight and up in the air as if he were sky diving. To add to the image, the boy apparently was screaming at the top of his lungs but trying to make eye contact with Danny as he walked around the room carrying Penelope.
The second day the plan was for me to take her in later and Danny to pick her up early so she wouldn't be at the center as long. I knew I had to be brave enough to drop her off. We got on a crowded bus in morning city traffic, and rode for an hour, the majority of the time with me kissing her sleepy face. I got off the bus with three bags- one filled with bottles and bottle parts, another with a breast pump I was taking to work with me and a third my purse, and carried my sleepy girl another 10 minutes to the daycare. As we walked in I felt only slightly reassured seeing other mommies and daddies bringing their babies into the center. Some of the moms had the exact same breast pump as I did. I tried to tell myself other families were doing the same thing as me and it didn't make me a bad mommy. I tried to recount some good things I'd done that morning or night before. I clipped her fingernails, I fed her, I gave her a bath, I told myself. When I got to her daycare I set her in her crib and I kissed her. I tried to tell her I loved her but my voice cracked. I rushed out, putting on dark sunglasses and waving to the daycare staff as if I was fine, trying to save my cry until my 20 minute walk to work. I tried to remember the sky diving kid to make myself laugh.
The staff at the center said she cried even more the second day and they had a hard time getting her to take a nap. But when she got home she didn't seem too traumatized. In fact, she was so happy to be home and be with her parents, she kept smiling and laughing. I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
By day three Penelope seemed to have adjusted. When I took her in I decided I didn't care about being late to work and would spend some time with her. I put her on the floor to swaddle her, so she might be able to nap. She turned her head and faced a little girl crawling and to my surprise, broke out into a huge smile. She had a friend! For some reason, seeing her smile, was a huge relief to me. She hadn't started to scream seeing the room, it wasn't as though this were torture for her. Instead, she just looked around curiously, her eyes landing on a little boy with his arms, legs and chin up in the air, lying on his stomach screaming as if sky diving. One day I'll explain to her about adrenaline junkies. When I left she was still looking around, curious and alert, no longer tired. And when Danny picked her up she was smiling and being held in a circle with all the other babies happily.
Today is day 6. Every day the staff say she's getting much better. She talks with them, as she does at home, she smiles, she actually takes naps. But even though I'm spending less time crying, and able to fall asleep a little faster at night, a big part of me still feels missing every time I'm at work. I'm not sure if I'll ever adjust to something that feels this wrong and unnatural.
Penelope lives in the here and now. She doesn't see the daycare and remember yesterday when she cried and couldn't sleep. When she gets home, she's not still remembering the daycare, or fearing that tomorrow she'll have to return. She's just enjoying our company right then and nothing else matters. I'm trying to be more like Penelope. While I'm at work, I miss her, but I try to bury myself in my projects and know that she's fine where she is. And then when I'm with her, I try to ignore the nagging feeling that I'll have to be without her again the next morning. I try to ignore how trivial my job feels now, compared to taking care of my child. I just keep telling myself it's temporary. One day my dreams will come true and I'll only work part time.
To end on a positive note, and to record Penelope's latest progress and achievements, she's progressed so much with tummy time! She can now lift up her head and her chest, and she's rolled over three times! She continues to become more and more vocal, and loves when you imitate the noises she makes back to her. She smiles more and more frequently, and is obsessed with television already. She goes into a TV trance, as if she really understands what's happening in the baseball or football game, or as if she's seriously considering purchasing that Audi. Her cheeks continue to be chubby and she's still extremely irresistibly kissable.