The first day of nursery. The universal visceral heartache – stomach churning, gut-wrenching pain as you walk away listening to the sobs. Please let him stop soon, I begged the Gods, to whom I only pray these days if I want him to go back to sleep or, in this case, to find some comfort and distraction in his nursery, and not feel utterly abandoned. Please, please. I hear blood curdling screams. I force myself out of the building and stand on the street listening to it from the open window of the basement room below. Fifteen minutes go by. He is still screaming. I can hear them saying “shhh’. Are they comforting him or just trying to silence him? It’s a small, homely nursery and several friends speak very highly of it and the bond that the kids form with the staff. But I’m walking away when he most desperately wants me, violating every instinct in my body and soul to go and pick him up. They said they’ll call me if he doesn’t settle, I tell myself, as I drag myself down the road. Doubts surge within me: am I inflicting something on him that he shouldn’t have to go through at this age? Several women of my mother’s generation have told me that he’s “too young” (they seem to think I shouldn’t be working, or that I should employ a nanny, as if that’s a financial option). I agree that at 20 months he’s still a tiny boy. Of course he wants his mum. And I’m leaving him.
I think so many of us wrestle with doubts, conflicted feelings and downright misery when our child first starts nursery. I know some mums who are very good at taking a robust “you just have to get on with it” approach, and of course the doubts and the pain don’t necessarily mean that you don’t believe that this is a transition that you can support your child through. But it’s so hard!
As I reach my house, I see my neighbor Rosa, a lovely woman with two young kids whom we chatted to on our way out to the nursery. She knows it was his first day being left there.
“How did it go?” she asks, with a warm smile.
“I left him doing blood curdling screams”, I say. She nods, as if this is par for the course.
“They do cry at first,”she says kindly, “but it’s usually brief and then he’ll cheer up and starting having some fun. And he’ll be meeting his little friends his age who he’ll start school with one day.”
I nod and shakily say “yes, he’ll be fine”, and start to cry. I am usually no good at sharing my emotions publically but I sob in this woman’s arms.
“On Martha’s first day I just got back into the car and sobbed”, she tells me. “I know what it’s like.”
I come away consoled, still sad, still with questions about whether nursery is the right choice for my son, but reflecting on the importance of community and of sharing one’s real emotions with other mothers. It strengthens us for all the holding we do of our little ones, physical and emotional, when we need to bear their pain.
And by the way, here’s a good selection of children’s books about starting nursery that are reviewed in this netmums article .