what was your most important day?

There are some days that define us more than others. While I would wish outwardly that I could be characterized by a sunny lingering day spent lazily in a beach chair, my high-strung inner self could not tolerate sitting still for that long. I have been fortunate enough to have had days that most would categorize as important; graduation, wedding, signing a purchase and sale, the birth of a baby. Though important days, these days did not define that inner nervous self that I often find when I look inside my head.

It was July 10th, 2007. We parked, gathered our belongings, and hesitantly moved towards the entrance of an unfamiliar office building. Steve, my husband, punched in a new code we would now have to master and the door opened on a bright, noisy world. The baby in my arms, just five months old, suddenly felt like a part of my own body; her tiny arm fused to my shoulder. We counted the rooms. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Here we were, opening the little latched half door, walking into a small foreign space, saying hello to two young women we had never met. I instantly wished that I had been able to face this day weeks earlier and meet these caregivers, size them up, and find their faults to give me a reason to declare that “no, absolutely not, there was no way I was leaving my precious baby girl here.” It was too late for those declarations now and besides, they actually seemed nice. I felt cornered, pressured, and unwillingly moved towards the corner of the room where her portable crib would be placed.

That’s when I really took notice of the commotion. How would my darling ever sleep with this racket? Almost sensing my own thoughts someone said, “she’ll get used to the noise.”

Why should she? Why should she get used to this? Why couldn’t she just stay with me? She couldn’t. I was on my way to my first day of work in as many months as she was old and they would be expecting me soon, without her.

“Here, say goodbye to Daddy.” The fused limb suddenly detached and her body traveled to her father.

Eyes pooling, I blinked upwards to the ceiling before reclaiming my daughter, realizing that the fused limb was in actuality my own vice grip.

“We call her Caro.”

A cascade of teardrops began to fall from my eyes.

Then Sara, “Call as many times as you want to.”

We walked away from her and I felt my heart sink with each step. This didn’t feel real. This couldn’t be real. I was leaving Caroline with strangers. For God’s sake didn’t anyone else realize how outrageous this was? Would they know to bounce her? Would they be kind to her? Would she even miss me?

The day we brought my daughter Caroline to her first day of childcare was the most important day of my life. I didn’t know it then, but in the days and weeks that followed I would become more than just me; more than a mother, more than a wife, more than a professional. I would become a better version of myself.

As I was growing, Caroline also became a better version of herself. It seems surprising to me even now when she spontaneously identifies her eye or begins singing the alphabet song that I quietly smile and thank day care in my head. These strangers have been wonderful to her and they have unwittingly become a part of our extended family. Could she have learned her body parts with me? Of course she could have, but I know in my gut and deep within my soul that her daycare experience, while not always puppies and sunshine, has been a tool for her to grow and learn and become herself.

I hadn’t planned on her day care being an education for me as well, but nonetheless, it has been. Bringing her to school that day marked a new phase of my life. On my most important day, I came to realize that to calm that jittery inner self I first needed to take a leap in not defining myself by Caroline.

For her entire five months, I had defined my day by her schedule, my mood by her mood, my success as a parent by her milestones, and my happiness by hers alone. After all that time how could I go back to being me? I didn’t know who I was if I was not her mother. My existence was based solely and completely on her. Somewhere along the way I had lost myself.

July 10th, 2007 I let go of that scary grip I seemed to be holding her in and began to share her with the world. That first letting go moment when we drove away and left her was tearfully the beginning of the most important day of my life. It was the first day that I felt like I mattered as me, not just as Caroline’s mother. It was and will be the last morning that I ever feel defined by someone else.


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