Enzo at day care. Photo/ courtesy of Diana Limongi

Dealing with toddler separation anxiety – mine, that is

As a working mom, one of the most important things is finding great childcare. I have been really lucky to count on trustworthy family members (and a fabulous babysitter) for my childcare needs.

Now, my son Enzo is over two years old and we decided he needed to socialize with other kids and be in a more structured environment. After battling sleep issues (still!) I was anxious about sending him to school, fearing it would be too much change too quickly. I realized however, that it was not Enzo’s separation anxiety that I was worried about – it was mine. Sending him to day care means he’s growing up – and that means I will have less control.

Last week, I decided it was time.

I had been delaying the start of day care. I realized this was more about me not wanting to let go than about my son. I knew he would enjoy it– what’s not to enjoy? New toys, kids his age, fun activities. Did I mention the new toys? I knew he’d get over me not being around pretty quickly.

This was about me. It was about me not wanting to let my child go, even though I knew he was going to have a great time.

On Sunday night, I had a knot in my stomach, and I barely got any sleep. Since his birth, I had known what my son was eating, who he was playing with, and what he was doing at practically every hour of the day. I hadn’t entrusted my son’s care to anyone aside from his grandmas, our babysitter, and my cousin. (I know, I’m incredibly blessed—and a bit spoiled.) No stranger had ever changed his diaper. I knew exactly what he was eating; I had control over his food intake.

Now, that was all going to change. He is growing up – and I am losing control.

On Monday morning – or should I say D-Day – Enzo woke up so excited that he slept in his bed all night. He was beaming with pride. I told him we were going to la escuelita. He said OK, and off we went. The first day was fine, he was entertained at drop-off and I kissed him goodbye, and I went off to work.

I waited to see if I would get a call saying “Pick up your son, he won’t stop crying.” But I got the opposite call. “Enzo is doing wonderfully. He ate lunch, and he is napping now. He was down in five minutes.”

Wait – Enzo? My Enzo? Napping, and by himself? (Cue look of bewilderment and confusion, as well as my jaw dropping).

That, ladies and gents, proves three things: First, babies are capable of doing more than we give them credit for. Turns out the doctor was right when he said that. Second, Enzo totally knows how to sleep on his own. Third, my child thinks he can get away with not napping when mama is around. Seriously? He’s not even 3 and he’s already trying to manipulate me!

On Enzo’s second day at day care, Enzo was happy to go back – but he wanted mama to stay, “No se vaya, mama” (don’t leave, mama) as he held my hand tightly. He knew what was up; Mama had left him there, so he wasn’t taking any chances. My heart breaking, I had to let go, and I went to work.

That day, I could not wait to pick him up.  It was the best part of my day. Before I had my child, I would hear parents saying stuff like that and I would think they were exaggerating because they were obsessed with their kids. Turns out – it is true.

I survived the first week of day care.

Enzo survived too; he likes it. He hugs his new friends and calls his teacher “tía.” When I mention “la escuelita” he wants to go. I never thought putting Enzo in daycare part-time would be such a big deal to me, because after all, I do work outside the home. It’s not like I’m with him all the time.

But it turns out, it was a huge deal. Putting Enzo in daycare means he is growing up. It also means the start of a whole new chapter in his life – one where English is front and center, especially since everything at home is mostly en español.

It is an exciting time, and a bit terrifying; I feel like I’ve opened Pandora’s box. This might be me being melodramatic again…I hope it is.

NBC Latino contributor Diana Limongi

Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

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