Everything was going as we had hoped. Ramya had enjoyed the three trial short nursery sessions, much to our relief. We had really worried that as a “lockdown child” who had had very limited interaction with other people other than her parents (and Auntie Pam), she might need a lot of time to adjust to the school setting. On the evidence of those three sessions, our worries were unfounded.
And so we got her ready for her first proper week of school. Because we were running late, I ordered an Uber and we hoped into the car. She must have sensed that we were going to the same place I had left her the week before. She was uncharacteristically pensive. The girl who usually wants the entire back of a car to herself wanted to cuddle. The little woman who wants to jump around or kick or attempt to do both when in a car just looked out of the window, lost in thoughts too lofty for adult comprehension.
I tried to tickle her.
She managed a forced smile.
Then it was back to looking out the window. To nothing in particular.
We got to school and I unbuckled her and carried her to the entrance. She demanded a cuddle. How could I not? I carried her and walked upstairs to her classroom. The teacher she had so impressed the week before smiled and stretched out her hands to receive her most recent addition.
And that is when all hell broke loose.
Tanya let out a scream that went right to my heart. She wailed as though I had just proposed she be completely abandoned by all she had ever known. Like her teacher was a gateway to eternal misery. She clung onto me like it was her only chance of survival. I started to tear away from her, but the grip was firm and unrelenting. My heart was though. So I let her cling and calmed her down. I made to kneel while holding her. The sort of thing we did all the time. Her feet would touch the ground and I would keep hugging her until she felt safe enough to let go. But this was a time like no other. She wouldn’t let her feet touch the ground. She knew what that meant: acceptance. Agreeableness. A subtle but potent message to her father that she was ok. But she wasn’t. So she pulled her feet upwards and fastened them across my waist. If she was to be put on the ground, it wasn’t going to be feet first.
And she wailed again.
I wondered in that moment whether we were doing the right thing. Whether it wasn’t too soon to be torturing our daughter with separation anxiety. Had we miscalculated her readiness based on three short sessions? And gosh, where did this little human get all this strength from? I seriously was feeling my waist hurt from the clinging!
She wasn’t the only one for whom it was the first week. A few other kids were new to the group. I later learnt that had we come a few minutes earlier, we would have witnessed them do their own wrestling with their parents. But in that moment, I was the only parent in the room and all the kids had stopped what they were doing to watch us two. The new ones saw Tanya and were reminded of their own struggles. The reminder was unpleasant. And so they started to cry as well. One at a time, until four other kids were wailing and screaming. Tanya, whose crying had appeared to be subsiding, looked back from my shoulders where she clung to take the sight in. It was a frightening sight. The kids were staring at her and crying. So she cried right back, increasing her tempo with every breath.
Eventually, somehow, her teacher managed to get a hold of her. She kicked and screamed and begged me not to go. She looked at me like I was the worst of traitors. She didn’t have to. I felt like one. For a moment, I stood there unsure what to do. Her teachers gave me the look a stranger gets when they walk into the wrong room at the wrong time; may we help you?
“Bye Tanya,” I said trying to awkwardly take my leave.
Then the pleas began.
“Paapaaa! Paapa piiiz?!” she screamed in between crying.
Our daughter knows how to say please. She seldom does. More often than not, it’s after several minutes of scolding or cajoling. This time it was unsolicited.
“Paapaaaa! Paapa piiiz?!”
By then I was at the classroom door. Trying at once to leave and remain. As torn-I figure- as Britain was then. I mumbled a couple of reassuring words to our daughter, but the look in her eyes was of both disbelief and hurt. For the first time in both our lives, I was leaving her to others’ devises. To be consoled by one other than her parents.
I went back home and tried to work. But it really was a waste of time. I called the nursery an hour later to find out how she was doing.
She was sleeping, they said.
I called an hour later, they picked up and I didn’t have to ask how she was. I could hear her crying in the background. Thirty minutes later, I called again. I was told she was sleeping again.
By the time I picked her up in the evening I had a clear picture of how the day had gone. Instead of facing this new world we had thrust her in, our daughter had chosen to oscillate between sleeping and crying. She hadn’t eaten much and had only managed a few gulps. When she saw me open the door in the evening, she came running to me. Crying.
What we had started off as a beautiful journey of exploration last week had turned into a nightmare.
“It takes a few weeks for them to settle in,” one of her teachers told me.
Weeks?!! Did she mean to say we were to go through this for week? We went back home via the park. She laughed and played and was her normal self again. We got home and she run straight into her mother’s arms. I saw her come alive.
Maybe we really should wait till she’s older I thought to myself. And I knew my wife had had similar thoughts all day. Tanya no doubt, would have been thrilled at them. But she would never know of them. It was a parent’s burden. To harbour doubt and project resoluteness. To not know what to do yet act with conviction.
To hope, to pray and then hope some more.
Trusting, in spite of the evidence before you, that the One who gave Tanya to us knew very well what He was up to!
Such hope it would appear, is exactly what St. Paul says it is; an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Heb 6:19).
Tomorrow will be better, I thought to myself. Our daughter by now was at my side, tagging at my trousers and looking up at me. I looked down at her and scooped her in my arms.
Tomorrow will be better, my embrace told her.
She must have believed me, for she hugged me right back.