The first rule of day care: Never look back after you drop off your child. As the cliché goes, rules are meant to be broken, so I shatter the day care rule every day.
Mondays are especially hard.
Every Monday, he walks independently through the front door, laughing as I punch in the security code with an animated “beep bop beeeep beep bop.”
We then poke our head into the front office, where Mrs. Martha usually sits until one of the infants arrives. Monster gleefully runs to her as she loudly greets him in the Spanglish he and I have come to love: “Hola guapo! Como estas chunky boy? Ah, I love you! Que lindo mi bambino gordito!”
After a quick hug from Mrs. Martha, he and I start the trek down the hallway to look for his class. We poke our heads into each room, and I ask, “Are they in there?” He points into an empty room, shakes his head, laughs and tiptoes to the next empty room.
Eventually, we arrive at the room where he recognizes the kids and the teacher.
And he knows.
He knows the big good-bye is coming. His smile fades, and he slowly steps backward from the doorway. He turns his back to the room and walks across the hallway until he is pressed against the wall, and his tiny finger traces something on the paint that exists only in his imagination.
Despite my gentle coaxing, he remains fixated on the wall. So I have to pick him up and carry him inside, setting him down in front of the basket of balls. “Ball?” he asks me, pointing with one hand while the other arm is locked around my neck.
After a few moments of coddling, I say, “Ok, buddy, it’s time to go. I love you.”
Like a moth to the flame, he jumps into my arms and wraps his little legs around my waist.
Still feeling strong, I say, “I know, friend. I know.”
Then he buries his face in my neck, and it spurs a montage of memories from the weekend: his toothy, shrieking grin as he enjoys the bucket swing at the park; his earnest attempt at brushing our dog’s hair; the sweet, unexpected hug and kiss he gave me while we cleaned the guest bedroom.
And just like that, I don’t want to leave him, and the tears start to form in both our eyes. We know one of us has to be the grown-up and walk away, and it sucks that it always has to be me.
I hand him to the teacher and close the door behind me, peeking through the glass as he reaches his chubby hands for me. I wait a few moments more until I see that he is settled, and I head to my car, where I let a few tears drop on the ride to work.
Everyone told me the first week or so would be hard, and then it gets better.
Nope. Monster has been in day care for roughly nine months, and I still have days when I leave with tears in my eyes.
It doesn’t get easier. And this is me leaving him. I can’t imagine how hard it will be on the day he leaves me.