A very emotional moment for me, several months ago, was when I dropped my then 1 year old daughter off at daycare for the first time. It was actually her second or third day, but my first time to be the one to deliver her.
I walked into the one year room with her. Three or four kids around her age, maybe a few months older, were sitting at a little kiddy table slowly eating their breakfast. Although I never saw anyone putting food in their month, one of them opened and closed his mouth, making a smacking noise that seemed to echo in the room. There wasn't a whole lot of movement going on and besides the smacking of the jaws, it was very quiet...too quiet. Imagine four kids sitting around a one foot high table, grapes, pieces of bananas and Cheerios sitting on their styrofoam plates, but just sitting there, kind of looking around. Checking me out, checking out my daughter who I'm seating at the table, completely without reaction. It reminded me of the scene in Hitchcock's The Birds where they're trying to tip toe through the front yard flooded with birds, the birds not doing anything. But you get the feeling they're going to attack at any second!
So I sat my daughter down in one of the available chairs at this table. A plate of fruit was placed in front of her. She got this look on her face that said, "What's this? You are not leaving me here." I tried to talk to her, let her know she was with friends and she can eat all the fruit she wants. I forced excitement into my voice all the while thinking, 'She does not belong here.' But I had to make the best of it.
With my daughter in her seat, I stood up to walk out. I watched her the whole time and I witnessed her expression going from 'You're not leaving me here' to 'Please? Oh please don't leave me here. Why are you doing this to me?' By the time I stepped out of the room, the door was closed, I could see through the glass pane. As if the sound of the door closing was her queue, my daughter exploded into tears thinking that she had been abandoned. The crying voice muffled mainly by the closed door and thick glass, but loud enough to tell me I left her somewhere and it sounded far away. The zombie kids around her, stared at her with that dead look as the tears poured from her eyes, unwilling to lend assistance or comfort.
My daughter never looked to me while she was upset. She didn't turn her head in my direction with pleading eyes to beg me to return. She bowed her a head a little, eyes slammed shut, tears flowing, pain in her voice, believing that she was completely alone. I'll never forget that image.
I'm not sure if it was better or worse to have her not look for me after leaving her behind in that room. To me it seems it was worse that she didn't because it told me that she did not expect me to return; that she was resigned to her fate and begging was a futile action. As a parent, you just die a little inside to see this. It's really the first occasion you have to break your bond with your child, which to her is everything in the world since she entered it. It's what she trusts and feels safe in. Safety actually taken for granted until she is exposed to that separation and it seems at that moment, when they cry, they realize, there is danger in the world and they are mortal and they can not depend on you all of the time. As necessary as it is, you being away from your child, even from a developmental standpoint, a requirement that has to be taught for a sense of independence to develop which ultimately will serve her better than absolute dependence, it doesn't make it any easier or change the fact that as a parent, it is an almost unbearable feeling to experience.
The happy ending is she spent two weeks at this place. After getting very sick with the Rota virus and an overnight stay at the hospital (wait, it's coming), we pulled her out of that daycare that housed scores of children, and found a in-home child care provider, smaller more homey environment, not to mention much cleaner. Only four kids in this house. Kids who were friendly to her, talkative and gentle. My daughter loves daycare now. She looks forward to it and can't wait to get there to start playing.
She likes coming home too.