Parting Is Sweet Sorrow

Parting Is Sweet Sorrow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Parting Is Sweet Sorrow

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Kahlil Gibran

I stood outside the door holding little Adam tightly on one hip, a diaper bag slung over my other shoulder. I peered through the glass at the other mothers dropping off their kids and repeated to myself, I can do this. I can do this.

After a few moments of an internal pep talk, another mother came out the door and held it open for me. I went through it—a small step for Adam, a giant leap for his reluctant mother.

I had been both looking forward to and dreading this first day of the Mother’s Day Out program at church. The thought of a day to myself was wildly appealing, but somehow tainted by the thought of leaving behind twenty-one-month-old Adam. Sure, I’ve left him before, but always with either a grandparent or a trusted babysitter and only for a few hours. Somehow this felt different. At the Mother’s Day Out program, he would be one of several needy toddlers, and he wouldn’t be surrounded by the familiar comforts of home.

Still holding tightly to my son, I slowly walked down the corridor until I came to his classroom. Because I was over an hour late, the program director looked up, smiled, and said, “We weren’t sure if you were coming today or not.”

“We’re running a little late this morning,” I replied. Little did she know I’d purposefully dawdled all morning trying to talk myself out of bringing him. But deep down I knew it was time—time for Adam to have one day a week to spend playing with other kids, learning new things, growing his independence, and time for me to learn the art of letting go, a little at a time. But the baseball-sized lump in my throat told me it was definitely not going to be easy.

Babies are physically separated from their mothers moments after birth, when fathers traditionally cut the cord. But the true connection—that pure love and devotion we feel for our children—is a tie that is never severed. A mother always feels like her child is very much a part of who she is.

So there I was, standing in the church nursery about to hand my heart over to a group of people I’d just met. Sure, I’d checked out the program, asked lots of questions, and had heard good things about it from other parents. But how could I be sure that everything would be okay?

I introduced Adam to the teachers and handed over his diaper bag. I rattled off a dozen random facts I thought they needed to know—Adam’s penchant for climbing tall, dangerous objects and his tendency to cram too many cereal bars in his mouth. They both had kind faces and were mothers themselves, nodding their heads as if they completely understood my nervousness.

I crouched down and put Adam on the floor with a half-dozen other toddlers who were engrossed in a Barney video. I knew it was best to make the good-bye clean and quick, to minimize any negative reaction. So with a hug and a promise to return, I headed for the door, knowing that if I thought about it a moment longer, I might change my mind.

In the end, one of us did cry on the first day of Mother’s Day Out, but it wasn’t the one wearing the diaper. Perhaps Adam decided to be the strong one so his clingy mother could muster the will to walk out the door. Or maybe he was just more interested in the Barney video than in his mother’s melodramatic departure. Whatever the reason, I made it to the car, wiping big tears away as I drove off. In that moment, I realized how tough it is for parents who must work to make this daily decision to leave their child.

I spent the day hurrying from one errand to the next, keeping myself busy so the time would go quickly. Several times I glanced back at the empty car seat and felt an ache in my chest. At the mall, I heard every cry and coo of every baby within fifty yards. All day I fought the feeling that I’d forgotten something very important, as if I’d left my right arm behind.

Finally, the time came to pick him up, and I nearly ran from the parking lot to the door. The mother and child reunion was joyous indeed. Adam came running into my arms, and I hugged him harder than ever before. The teachers said he had done beautifully all day and even wrote “wonderful behavior” on his report card. I beamed with pride as I carried him out to the car.

Despite my internal drama, this weekly “day out” is good for both of us. Adam will continue to embrace his individuality, and perhaps I will even learn how to slow down and appreciate the time alone—to read a book, write in silence, and maybe even have an uninterrupted phone conversation. Most of all, this weekly day away reminds me that the time we spend with our children, no matter how long or short, is meant to be treasured.

Gwen Rockwood

More stories from our partners