It feels wrong but you do it anyway. After all, there is no other way. It’s unavoidable. It’s just the way life is.
Most of the time Tom is fine about being dropped off at nursery. On the whole he really loves the place and has been as pleased as punch to have moved up to the pre-school group. He’s a “big boy” now.
But then there are days like today. Days when he’s just a little boy who’s a bit under the weather – not seriously ill – just a little bit cuddly and wants to stay at home and have his mummy and daddy stay with him.
And I know how he feels. It’s Monday morning. I don’t particularly want to go to work. I don’t particularly want to be one of the “big boys” myself. But that’s just how life is. The bacon has to be brought home or nobody eats.
So we take him to nursery. And he won’t let go off my hand. He clings to my leg like a Koala bear clinging to a tree. He wants a “big cuddle” (this means a proper lifted up cuddle). He shows no sign of wanting to wander off and play with the “big boy” toys in the pre-school class room like he normally does.
I try persuasion. I try cajoling. I try leading him into the room and expressing an over-egged enthusiasm for a big red plastic fire engine. He likes fire engines.
But not today.
He grips hold of my index finger and won’t let go.
I bend down and give him a hug. I try and reason with him. Give him the grown up argument. Daddy has to go to work. Daddy doesn’t really want to go to work either. Daddy loves him very much and would love to stay at home with him but can’t. Daddy has to go and earn some money so we can keep our nice home.
All true but it rings hollow.
If I love him why am I putting work first? If I want to stay home too why don’t I just do that? I’m a grown up after all; I make all the rules – why don’t I just change them? I know Tom doesn’t think in those terms but the look he gives me tells me this is where his little heart is today.
In the end one of the nursery staff pick him up and carry him over to the toys. She’s being lovely to him – a big hug, lots of coos – but all I can hear is the wail of despondency; all I can see is the mouth turning down and those big brown eyes looking at me imploringly. “Daddy!”
Karen and I hurry out. Out of sight. It’s the best way. Cleanest cut, soonest healed. To prolong it only makes it more painful and more upsetting for Tom.
Out in the corridor, giving ourselves a hug, we can still hear him crying. He doesn’t usually cry for this long. A cry that squeezes the heart painfully. Bless him. He’s under the weather... not seriously ill... I’m so tempted to go back and get him. Tempted to take a sickie and bring him home.
But I don’t. I can’t. If I do that now then Tom will expect me to do it every time he doesn’t want to be left at nursery. Pretty soon I’d end up losing my job. So Karen and I head outside. Back to the car.
He’ll be OK. Within 10 minutes he’ll settle and will have forgotten all about it. The nursery is a good one and will ring us if he becomes really poorly.
I know all this. We’ve done the right thing. The only thing. We have to go to work. It’s unavoidable.
But it feels wrong.
It feels wrong to abandon my son; to walk away when he is distraught. To pull away when he gripping hold of my T-shirt, my fingers, anything he can get hold of.
I wonder if he will remember it. Remember what he is feeling in these moments. Spend time when he is a little older puzzling why – in what seem like to him random occasions – when he was upset and needing his mummy and daddy we walked away and left him. Will he think that he did something wrong? That he was being punished?
All the way to the car I fight the urge to go back and get him.
And that feels wrong too. It goes against my instincts as a parent.
Who am I betraying more, I wonder? Tom or myself?
What kind of world have we made for ourselves when being a parent is at odds with plain ordinary living; plain ordinary survival?
When I eventually get to work I have a sudden yearning for a big red plastic fire engine. But I am glad that Tom has it.