Up until a few months ago, I was quite certain that my baby liked me the least. Which was not to say that he didn’t like me at all, because he definitely did, but it always seemed to me that he had a bit of a preference for Papa or Ya Ya (our helper). Which didn’t bother me too much, I figured he was an individual with his own opinions about things. My song and dance routines would usually garner a lukewarm “Oh, hello. It’s you again.” response, whereas Papa just had to step into the room and bam, the crowd would go wild.
This all changed when we traveled to Tahiti. With one less caregiver (competitor) out of the way, there was only Ralph and me left. And a frightening new world of fawning relatives, disrupted routines, and uncomfortable living arrangements for our one year old to contend with. Ralph and I suddenly and collectively became our son’s Reason for Being. The sole light of his life. It was a level of separation anxiety which confined either Ralph or me to a comfort zone of about 4 metres in any direction, even when we were in plain sight. This would escalate around dinner time, where I would be the only person allowed to feed him, and he would descend into something resembling colic (oh, good memories) for the hour before his bedtime. Our city-bred boy was exhausted from the hot, small town life – no malls, no toys, no where to go and nothing to do in the scorching weather.
After we got home from our trip, Michael’s separation anxiety remained at an all time high, and I decided I’d had enough, and it was time to train the heck out of him, because if dogs can be trained to stay, then babies can be taught how to do the same. Right? So a few times each day, I would walk away from him after a reassuring “I’ll be back in a few minutes” and then give him five minutes of alone time.
That backfired. Badly. Michael became so traumatized by the “training” that his anxiety got even worse, and he started erupting into panicked crying the moment I even thought about standing up and walking away. Once, he crawled all the way from the living room, down the hallway and into my bedroom to look for me, pulled himself up against me and hit my lap repeatedly, screeching, tears running down his face. I’m here I’m here I’m here look at me now and be with me. As he screamed and screamed, I felt that familiar rush of rage building – that searing frustration when your baby has asked too much from you, has been too unreasonable, too absurd, and you tell yourself that surely, surely you are done. What kind of human, baby or not, couldn’t be alone for five seconds? I snapped and shouted something nonsensical at him while dragging him out into the living room. And then it was over. Five seconds of blinding fury – a micro breakdown – and then I was back at my job again, calm and resigned to be needed and used and here. To sit next to him on the floor, while he hit two plastic balls together. That was when I decided that training was officially over, and we would just have to ride this one out.
To attach or not to attach? To hold him close, or to run away and let him find his feet? If you’re in Japan, as I’ve learned, the answer would be to strap him in and hold him close. And they must be right, because I saw the results first hand. They have wonderfully independent, secure and – it has to be said – remarkably well-behaved children. Well done, guys.
The French would probably say – treat him like an adult, give him space, and he will come to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around him. Again, they must be right, because that certainly works too.
Or maybe nobody is right and we just have the kids that we have. And the right way to do things is the way that is eventually proven to work. It is parenting strategy built on error after trial, with many adjustments and knocking down and starting over. It is intuition and love and common sense, and underpinning it all is the desperate hope that knowing who our children are should count for something. Because we really know them very, very well.
So no, I will not be leaving him to cry for half an hour in the church nursery for two months, until he “inevitably” gets it. It worked for your kid, it won’t work for Michael and me.
In the meantime… here we are. Navigating this phase. Please let this be a phase. At the moment, he has stopped panicking when I disappear, but only because he knows exactly where to find me – the kitchen, invariably. So that gives me precisely four seconds before I see this face rounding the corner:
I would call him my little stalker, except that would be a little unfair. The truth is, I stalk him too. I watch him more than he watches me. I spend long minutes ogling him as he goes about his business, because this consuming infatuation goes both ways. He is becoming such a mama’s boy, which secretly delights me no end. I just wish we’d get to those five minutes of alone time soon. Somehow.