Monday, April 12, 2010

Alone With Strangers... At Last!!

Aubrey and I had a HUGE mommy/daughter breakthrough last week. There was crying, paranoia, fear, sweat and grunting. Sounds psychotic enough for you, or what?!


Early childhood is full of so many big milestones. First solids, first tooth, standing, crawling, walking. We're in full blown toddler time, so getting my daughter potty trained was the biggest thing to make the headlines over here recently. As the Target lady rang up those adorable packages of Elmo and Hello Kitty underpants, I didn't think anything could quite top this feeling of motherly accomplishment... until today.

Today, I left my child in the care of a complete stranger for over an hour and she (my child) only cried for about 5-8 minutes. YES!

This may not seem like a big deal to many parents. Especially if your child has been in daycare or preschool already. My daughter is almost three and has had a one on one nanny, mommy or daddy with her 24/7 since she was born and the only other people who have watched her for an hour or two have been a couple girlfriends of mine whom my daughter knows very well. My kid has never been left alone in a new situation, in a strange place, with a person she didn't know. This was big and I didn't think I was going to get away with it.

I gave my nanny the day off and was racking my brain for a morning activity for Aubrey and me. I get bored easily and the thought of doing the zoo, the park or the mall again was making me ill. I had been toying around with - or rather fantasizing about - the idea of taking her to the gym. Every time I managed to get to the gym, I would see parents dropping their children off at the Kids' Club (only $2 for up to 2 hrs) and the room looked really fun! A bouncing/climbing contraption, cartoons, toys, crayons and a miniature toilet. What more could a kid want? She has the time of her life while I get a work out in - mother and child in perfect harmony and I also felt it was a good way to get her prepped for some pre school action which will be happening for the first time in a couple months.
As I got us dressed for our big gym outing, I told Aubrey, "You get to go to the gym with mommy! I'm going to exercise and you'll get to play in a kid gym with other kids! Doesn't that sound fun?!" She replied, "Yes! I want to go with mommy!" So I made it clear that she would be in a room without mommy, but I'd be just in the next room and she would be having so much fun, she wouldn't even notice I wasn't there, to which she replied, "No, I want to stay with mommy! I"m going to exercise with mommy." She didn't seem to be buying it, but I pressed on.

I kept reassuring her during the short car ride to the gym. When we got there, I asked the young woman watching the kids if I could hover a while and let her play. She said yes, so I plopped Aubrey on the inside of the play area and encouraged her to introduce herself to a girl who looked her age. There was a brief freak out - Aubrey begging me to pick her back up and "get her out of here". This was not encouraging. But after she calmed down, she started to play, all the while checking to make sure I was still there. I waited and watched another 10 minutes and just when she seemed like she didn't care whether I existed or not I did the sneak out.

Whether to sneak or say good bye. An ongoing parental debate and in this case, I'm not sure what would have been best. The young woman watching the kids said it's pretty 50/50 - what the parents do and what the kids respond to best. I have never been a sneaker, but I felt she would never let me go if I tried to say good bye.

I quietly let the door close behind me and did a set on the military press, right next to the kid room. Then I looked through the window to see my child screaming, bawling and trying to throw herself over the gate of the play area. Awesome! This is going great. Ugh.

Before I snuck out, the young woman asked me how long I wanted to let her cry. I told her I had no idea. What did she suggest? She said they usually let it go on for 15 minutes before they page you OVER THE PA SYSTEM or pull you out of your class. So on to the treadmill I went. I left my earphones off and set the timer for 15 minutes knowing a mile and a half was all I was going to get in anyway.

Running and running as fast as I could, straining to hear my name each time I heard a PA page, I was shocked to see the timer run out and oddly, they never called for Amy Anderson. I hopped off the treadmill and headed back to peer through the window only to see my sweet girl playing with the other children, smiling from ear to ear. This was the moment I had been waiting for! The moment when my child finally didn't care if I was there or not.

Some moms get teary eyed over this milestone. They feel hurt and less needed. For me, it was truly one of the most exhilarating moments of liberation I have ever felt in my life. I'd rank it right up there with getting my driver's license, throwing my high school mortar board up in the air and getting my first apartment after leaving my ex.

As much as I love my daughter, being a traveling, late night, career minded comedian AND a mother has been challenging for me. The loss of my former self, my former life, was harder for me than I had anticipated. I know it's a challenge for many mothers, but they don't like to admit it. It makes one look like a bad mother. I don't see anything wrong with mourning the spontaneous, self-absorbed life I once led every now and then. It doesn't make me a less competent mother now or love my daughter any less, but it does make these breakthroughs of independence all the more exciting.

I enjoyed a great, full workout and when I stepped back in the kids' club to pick up Aubrey, she seemed completely non-distressed but happy to see me all at once. The end result I was hoping for. Our gym adventure was a complete success!

I'm so proud of my daughter for taking on this scary new challenge head on and coming out of it like a champ and I'm proud of myself for having the mom-balls (I'd like to trademark that please) to push her at just the right time. It was something we both needed. I'd just like to add this final thought - WOOHOO!

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