When A Heart Goes Walking Around Outside Your Body
“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” — Elizabeth Stone
In many ways, today was a day like any other. In some ways, it was a first — which wasn’t actually a first. It was the first day you went to daycare, the first day you spent all day away from your home — but which also wasn’t the first time we left you in someone else’s care.
When we dropped you off in the morning, you barely batted an eye lash. I wasn’t worried about you — you adventurous, curious, resilent lovely person. It was my own reaction that came as a surprise. I certainly didn’t think it would be any harder than going back to work when you were just 3 months old.
I was not prepared
For some odd reason, it was harder this time around. When I first went back to work, I spent months preparing myself (basically since you were born). I was envisioning emotions, fears, and all the worst case scenarios. I cried into my pillow, and I cried into you when you were napping on me. I had all this time to overreact, and when it came time to leave you, I felt relieved because it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. I didn’t cry once. It was actually kind of fun to be around adults again.
I thought about the many ways that this was going to be easier than the first time, because A) you’re now a confident, 2 year old toddler — not a fragile 3 month old, and B) I have experience now that I’m not a new mom.
Of course, as I was to find out today, when you get complacent and don’t prepare yourself, you get blindsided. Never underestimate your opponent, even if that opponent is your own feelings.
But also, maybe it will never get easier, no matter how many times we walk down this road.
My heart was walking around outside my body
The day you were born, my heart was doomed to walk around outside of my body. When I hear about anything bad happening to a kid, the first thing I think of are the parents. I know it sounds strange to anyone who is not a parent, but my heart physically hurts when I imagine their pain. Even though most bad things are imagined, our hearts are forever exposed, thinking about the millions of things that could go wrong.
I spent the day obsessively watching the cameras the daycare so nicely provided us. But why? It’s not like there was an even remote possibility of anything bad happening in a meticulously baby-proofed daycare with two watchful adults with years of experience doing this. In many ways, you are safer with them than with me — I have a lot less experience, and our home is nowhere as carefully baby-proofed. This feeling — it’s not rational though. It’s what parenting feels like. It’s the feeling of panic when you surrender all control of your heart, because it’s forever walking outside of your body.
Surround yourself in love — and perspective
The thing that got me through the day was the support of my friends and your dad. It was amazing to get feedback from other parents about how very normal and mundane these feelings really are — even though to me, they felt momentous. Our relationships — whether they are lifelong loves or loose connections — all offer a richness of perspective. While it didn’t help my anxiety, it did help to know that all around the world, there are millions of parents quietly going crazy, just like me. We assume that everyone has everything figured out, while we fall apart — we assume that everyone is strong, while we are weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all just trying to make it through the day — sometimes easily skating by, but most of the time, barely by the skin of our teeth.
Surround yourself with people who will give you the real talk — but who will also nurture your heart, when your heart goes walking outside of your body.
Don’t let me stop you
I want you to be adventurous and try all the things that you want to try, even if every time you do so, I hyperventilate into a paper bag. But managing my emotions is not your job — it’s mine. I now know that it will never be easier — whether you are going to daycare, going off to college or climbing Everest. It will always feel the same for me — but I will manage, just like my parents did, and all the parents before us. Because a little anxiety is a low price to pay to see you, the love of my life, get stronger, reach higher and do more with each step you take.
I will train myself to manage these emotions. I will seek out support and perspective of loved ones — and fellow parents I barely know. I will train myself to never outwardly show you how worried I am about you, even if it kills me inside. Unless you do something really stupid — then you’ll definitely hear from me.
I can’t keep you safe by keeping you to myself. It’s much riskier to shelter you. You need to learn and gain experience so that you don’t do stupid things. I do promise to always be here to help you make sense of all of your experiences. But for now, let’s just do daycare. We can climb Mount Everest another day.