Today, after a very long time, you had tears in your eyes when I dropped you off at preschool. You didn’t even throw a tantrum, just clung to me with huge tears rolling down your cheek. It broke my heart. I’d watched another mom dealing with the same thing just the other day. I saw her face as she walked away after her toddler was taken inside crying, and I knew she was hurting. It was probably worse for her, because I know she goes to work, and wouldn’t be back until later in the evening to pick her child up. I know those tears will linger in her mind, even as she deals with the tasks of her work day.
I want to tell you, though, that I understand. Today, somehow, I didn’t get frazzled or worked up that you were crying. Instead, my mind flashed back some 20-odd years, and I remembered how I felt as a small child, watching my mother drop me off and leave. Suddenly, school or wherever you are at that time feels like an alien territory because it’s bereft of the person who is the centre of your existence. I get it. In fact, I remembered that I hated that feeling so much that I never wanted my parents to drop me in school. I always preferred to go by bus, filled with my noisy friends, because that way, I would be directly plunged into the school day and not have to ‘part’ with my parents at the gate.
I also want to tell you how much I wish that you didn’t have to feel these difficult emotions. I wish I could protect you from all of it. There are so many more you’ll have to deal with as you get older… hurt, betrayal, bitter disappointments, intense fear, pain, anger you won’t know how to handle. I wish I could protect you the way I did when you were inside me. But I can’t. You live in this world, and you have to deal with its vagaries, its realities, and yes, its cruelties. I’ll do my very best to give you the tools to deal with the things to come, and when that’s not enough, I want you to know that you can always come to me to talk or rant or cry or even just hug.
Right now, you’re somewhere on the cusp between babyhood and childhood. Sometimes you look and talk so much like a ‘big girl’, I forget you’re still just little more than a baby. Then on days like this or on nights when you throw a tantrum over nothing, I remember it again. I realise that you’re a little person dealing with big emotions, stuff that even adults struggle with. I’ve lived in this world 30-odd years and I still have emotional blow-outs when I’m exhausted or facing a problem I haven’t dealt with before. How can I expect you to handle things perfectly on little over three years of lived experience? It might seem irrational to me that you’re crying over being without me for a couple of hours, but I will try and remember it feels like a big deal to you. I won’t say, “Don’t be silly!” or “Big girls don’t cry!” or “It’s just for a few hours!” I’ll try and understand, and I’ll give you a hug and a kiss and wipe your tears.
But I’ll still muster up a cheerful smile and wave and walk away. I’ll do that because I believe you have the ability to cope with whatever you’re feeling. I’ll do it because I know we can always talk about it at night, like that time you told me you were having a ‘funny feeling’ and we realised that you were feeling scared of that strangely shaped shadow in the bedroom. I’ll do it because as much as I wish I could just hold you in my arms and shield you against everything difficult and painful, I know that I can’t. I’ll do it because I love you, and am doing the best I can for you, the best way I know how.
I just wanted you to know that.
‘Toddler Talk’ is a weekly column published in The Hindu Metroplus. This article originally appeared here titled ‘To baby, with love’.