Monday, August 16, 2010

The Betrayal

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.


libby said...

Oh Steve..sometimes this parenting club is just rubbish is'nt it? I have driven to work with tears in my eyes cursing my husband for not having more money so that I could be a stay at home wife many times over the years after dropping my kids at nursery...but I do believe that they are ok once we go...and you have to do what you have to do unless you're minted, so don't beat yourself up...know how you feel though.

Gina said...

Aw big hugs, Steve. I am feeling a bit worried now about leaving the comment box and you being all alone at work without your fire engine!

I think everyone has done it at some point, Steve - left their child somewhere when they have wanted to be at home. It's just one of those realities of life. I certainly don't think it does them any long-lasting damage. Tom isn't going to remember it at all. Some people say it is character-building but I don't think it is that either. It is just one of those things we have to do that we would rather not do - just part of life.

He'll be fine. But yes, it is a pity we are pulled along by commitments and dragged off to places we don't want to go - I mean work, not nursery really!

But you have some holiday coming up, don't you? Look forward to that.

And perhaps buy yourself another fire engine to keep in your drawer at work!!

Steve said...

Libby: I know, I know. I hate the fact that both Karen and I have to work and the kids have to be farmed out. It's so unlike the childhood I had - I often feel like I'm failing them - but it's such a different world now. I don't think I know of any stay at home parents amongst my small coterie of friends.

Gina: thank you. And you're right; only this week and next week at work and them we have another week off together. And I don't doubt that Tom will have forgotten all about this morning by the time I see again tonight. The whole thing probably upsets me more - in terms of the longevity of the feeling - than him but I think I feel guilty because, as a grown up, I have far more control and say about the situation than he does.

Miss behaving said...

Oh gawd it's hard isn't it? You did the right thing no question, but I often wondered when mine were smaller , why, when all they want is me for the day, can't they have me, it isn't too much to ask is it, and there'll be other older sadnesses that can't be fixed by a day of cuddling me.

Steve said...

Miss behaving: ah - my feelings exactly. Just a day at home... not too much to ask. Let's make the most of the simple fixes while such things are possible... before the hurts and the healing get too complicated. Sadly my boss and my bank manager both say "no".

vegemitevix said...

What a beautiful piece of writing. It captures those complicated feelings so completely. My oldest son cried so much when I first left him at nursery that he turned blue! I sobbed all the way through the traffic to my meeting. 16 years on, I think he's forgiven me. :-)

Steve said...

Vegemitevix: he turned blue? My God! Thankfully we haven't had any Smurf / Avatar transformations so far... not sure I could cope if we did!

Trish said...

I've clicked on this box numerous times today and couldn't decide what to write so clicked off again. As a stay at home mum this guilt at having to go to work was never an issue for me and for that I feel very fortunate. But I can still empathise as that same pulling at heart strings occurred in those early weeks at school when I wasn't allowed to just take him home with me.

Steve said...

Trish: thank you. I don't think this dilemma is confined to working parents at all - as your own experience has proved.

Nota Bene said...

It's hard sometimes isn't it? It would be brilliant to stay with them all the time...I remember the times when The Boy didn't want to be left...of course a few years down the line they don't want you around!

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I know! That makes it worse - I want to make the most of him while he still wants his old dad around!

The Sagittarian said...

Oh boy am I glad those days are behind me. I used to phone the day care centre when I got to work, and I NEVER heard the wailing so I assumed they got over the wrench once we were out of sight. You did the right thing, you can't go back as that really makes it harder the next time. Phew. See, this is what they DON'T tell you at pre-natal classes!!

English Rider said...

I hope you made it through the day and were suitably insulted when Tom didn't want to leave his friends and come home at the end of it.

Being Me said...

Steve, you have made me cry.

I agree with you so much, esp. the latter part of your post. Our daughter has gone to occasional care since she was 10mo. Last year, she was in care 5 days a week, varying hours, and it felt sooo wrong (for me) that I quit the job even though the money was great. We needed the money and struggled because of it... Luckily I'm not the main bread winner.

I wanted to really just point out one thing to you about your post: You wouldn't honestly lose your job/not bring in the money from taking 1 day of parental leave/a sickie yourself, surely? And, more than that, you would NOT be making a rod for your own back with Tom. You would know the difference b/w being taken for a row and an honest plea for a day on the couch when he's under the weather.

I hope I haven't made you feel worse! Just really trying to play devil's advocate. And truly, truly sympathize with your position.

The Crow said...

I can only echo what everyone else has said about the rightness of your action, and Tom very likely settled down to play within ten minutes of your leaving, but still it hurts - one of the Catch 22 moments of our lives as parents.

Beautifully, sensitively written, Steve, and tells us much good things about you as a parent, as a man.

So, how did the evening reunion go?
Hugs to the three of you.

femminismo said...

You have broken my heart with this post. (Oh, not truly, but I remember doing this every so often: delivering a child who didn't want to leave mom and dad. Walking away cleanly because someone would take care of him and it was time to go somewhere I couldn't take him.) I think we all carry little hurts like this inside and sometimes they come out in odd ways. I hate to see some people drive away. I get to feeling very abandoned. This may come from having six brothers and sisters taking away the attention my mother should have been lavishing on me. But the little boys we left with others have grown up strong and resilient. Lucky us. And they forgave us somehow.

Steve said...

Amanda: pre-natal classes? Is it too late to take them?

English Rider: ha ha! Wasn't quite like that But Tom was fine. A bit unsettled in the morning but by lunchtime he was fine!

Being Me: thank you for your comments (and your email) - don't worry I know where you are coming from. Karen and I both have taken days off in the past to look after both Tom and Ben when they've been ill. SO many in fact that both are sick records are cause for concern with our employers. Hence we need t be more careful... more choosey. Feeling slightly under the weather - for all it pulls at the heartstrings - isn't a good enough reason to skip work. If however Tom had worsened then we'd have no choice and would stay home with him willingly. As it is he picked up by the afternoon and today is fine. All is well! :-)

The Crow: he was fine and seemed none the worse for wear when I got home last night. I'd even venture to say he had a better day than I did!

Femminismo: so true and in my calmer moments I know that through these really quite gentle experiences we are preparing Tom for school and college and work... life in general. He got a big hug when we all got home again I can tell you.

Monalisa said...

You really feel for your children, don't you. It never stops even when they are aged 29...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, he's got to learn. If you cave into his every demand you'll end up with a prize brat on your hands, not to mention a young adult who cannot deal with the world in due course and ends up living at home with you and sponging off his parents until his 60s.

You have elected to be a parent and thus a role model to him. He knows you love him and has plenty of cuddles the rest of the time. Chances are he was playing quite happily with the others not half an hour after you left, all waterworks forgotten.

Think how lucky your kids are compared to all the small children from dysfunctional or broken homes, sometimes with very few hugs, and I guarantee any feelings of guilt will quickly dissipate.

Steve said...

Monalisa: so my own mother often tells me!

Laura: true, compared to some and compared to some predicaments my boys have got it good and that does make me feel a lot better.

Löst Jimmy said...

You did the only thing possible in my view given the circumstances and the necessity. I really felt your pain in that post all said and done. The wee man of course will be fine.

lunarossa said...

You never want to leave them, Steve, even when they are older...but it gets easier with time...As you said, once you've gone they are happy playing with their friends and they know you'll pick them up later..Ciao. A.

Steve said...

LöstJimmy: and indeed he was; it wss probably his "old man" who had the worst day of it!

Lunarossa: and that's exactly what happened and will continue to happen I don't doubt. But it never gets easier, does it?

the fly in the web said...

You must have felt as sad as he's the legacy of urban, wage slave living that our system has produced over the last three centuries.

My mother didn't work, but there was no dodging kindergarten because of a snuffle or a tummy had to learn to live with the kindergarten staff were very ready to point out as they directed you to the sand pit.

I can't say that it was character building...but it was certainly character forming.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: yes, and there is a distinct difference between the two, isn't there?

Clippy Mat said...

it sucks doesn't it?
it's so hard leaving kids on days like that. you have my sympathies, there's just no easy way at times. plain and simple.

Steve said...

Clippy Mat: I'm still waiting for the day when, according to legend, it gets "easier".

Suburbia said...

I remember doing this too, you describe it perfectly and no, you couldn't have changed your mind once you had said he had to stay, thatvepuld have lead to a performance every time! However now mine are older, I am much more relaxed about them staying home occasionally if they are under the weather, but the I guess when they're older you can reason with them a bit better.

I hope he's feeling a bit better now and that he goes happily next time. If it's any consolation, I think it has more of a lasting impact on us than them.



Steve said...

Suburbia: I think you're right and, yes, thankfully he seems to be a little better now and is definitely enjoying his time in the pre-school group.