Separation Anxiety is Contagious
You Catch it from Your Children
By Tracey Solomon
A tsunami of tears started when we reached the doors. His started at the idea of our separating, mine at the idea of not separating. It was the first day I had: brushed my teeth, put on make-up AND worn shoes, all at the same time, in almost two weeks. I knew if I could just make it past the next few minutes, I’d be past the painful detachment and rewarded with a cup of coffee without a teething ring dunker. I might even get to eat a real breakfast. I’d also be able to at least hear other people speak in multi-syllable words, even if I couldn’t return in kind until the coffee hit my system.
I was desperate for a break, and I felt like the world’s worst mother. Thoughts arrived with the tears: How could I leave a crying baby like that? He needs his mommy! I’m the one he wants. If I don’t get some big people time soon, I will lose my mind. A crazy mom is not what my baby needs. I used to be on the other side of the door, when I was a teacher I always got them to calm down, eventually. He has to do this, so do I. The thoughts battled. In the end, guilt lost, reason won.
I remember the caregiver lovingly prying my 2-year-old from my arms. “Go on into the meeting, he’ll be fine.” As I watched the tears and baby snot (aka: liquid mommy guilt) run down his face, I had my doubts about the “fine” part. But, I went anyways.
I could hear him crying as I made my way down the hall. I felt torn in half, I felt like running. The problem was, I wanted to run in both directions. I wanted to run to my crying baby and I wanted to run to the MOPS meeting, where I knew I needed to go.
I stood for a minute in the middle of the hallway. Then, I saw another mother met at the door of the toddler room by the same tsunami. The mom turned around, our eyes met. I smiled. She smiled. “Who do you think will last the longest today?” I asked her. She laughed: “My bet is on yours.” I laughed: “Funny, my bet, is on YOURS.”
We walked to the meeting room together. We went to our discussion tables. We drank full, hot cups of coffee without our children. In unison, our heads turned, every time we heard the door open. We both hoped it wasn’t a caregiver coming to tell us the crying hadn’t stopped. Every once in a while our eyes met, we smiled. We survived.
It’s been years since that day. I have no idea whose child lasted the longest. But, this morning, at 6:19 am that same child, who had to be pried from my arms, walked to the school bus to go take his high school finals. Without shedding a tear. I enjoyed two full, hot cups of coffee. I even got a chance to read a real book, without pictures.
Separation anxiety is a phase. Every child goes through it, every childcare book covers it. Every mother knows about it. What I didn’t know was that it’s contagious. Not just to other children … but to their mothers. I know, because I caught it. I was anxious for a separation from my child!
Looking back, I’m glad I separated. Even though it was hard and heart wrenching. I know I did the right thing. Besides, could I really get away with sitting next to him in his Psych class? Maybe. But, do I really want to be that mom? No. And he doesn’t want to be that kid, either.
Separation anxiety. It’s not terminal. You can make it. Keep walking down the hall, together.