From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Relearning How to Say Good-bye

When we got into her room, Natasha smiled as the other chattering children gathered around her. She barely noticed when I kissed her good-bye. I was relieved at how easy it had been for her to part from me. I, on the other hand, was teary; my chest ached. I was thankful it had been this easy. When I came to pick her up eight hours later, she ran to me, tugging on my clothes as she tried to clamber up into my arms. We held each other joyfully, as though we had not been together for months.

On the second day, however, Natasha waved good-bye to her brother, Alister, and started babbling with less enthusiasm than usual as she watched where we were going. When she saw the green restaurant awning, she gasped. She saw the round bagel sign on her right and stared at me.

“Mama. Mama.” At the fire station, she burst into tears. “Mama, no. Mama, no.” As I turned up the hill, she uttered a final plea. “Please, Mama, no.”

Three little words, each one more hopeless than the last. I glanced back to see tears trickling from her large brown eyes, down her pinkish cheeks. Tears began to stream from my eyes. When we stopped, we cried as I took her from the car, and we held each other.

“I’m so sorry, baby girl,” I said as she held on to my shoulders, wrapping her clinging, little fists in my hair. “It’s going to be okay,” I told her, wanting to believe it myself.

The caregiver took Tashi from my arms. Her face was red, her voice high and loud as she cried from fear and anger. “I’ll see you soon.” I kissed her quickly and walked away, still hearing her cry, while I stifled my own tears.

I dabbed at my mascara and showed up at work every day for over two weeks with puffy red eyes, smudged eyeliner, a pink nose, and heavy heart. Natasha and I repeated this ritual of grieving separation daily. One morning Rashida, my coworker, brought me a cup of tea and put her arm around me. “It’s hard for you to leave your baby, but everything will be okay,” she said. “You can’t only tell Natasha this, but you must believe it yourself.”

The next day, before I dropped Natasha off, I said to her: “I’m going to take Alister to day care and Tashi to work, then I am going to school.”

“Mama,” Alister said, and laughed, “you mean, you are going to take me to school and Tashi to day care and then you go to work.”

“Oh, I’m taking you to work and Tashi to school, and then I am going to day care.” Alister let out a squeal and set about correcting me again. We repeated this a couple more times, and Natasha started to laugh.

After we dropped off Alister, I said, “Okay, Tashi, now where am I going to take you? Work?”

“No, Mama. I go to day care.” She smiled and we played the mixed-up destination game a little more.

Natasha’s lip started quivering when she saw the large bagel hovering ahead.

“I love you, baby girl. Will you show me your pictures when I pick you up?”

“No, Mama. I want to stay with you.”

“I want to stay with you, too, but I have to go to work. We will be together soon.” There was silence as we passed the fire station. I waited for a sign of peace from Natasha.

“I’m going to play in the sprinklers today.” This time Natasha didn’t look at me with big glistening eyes. Instead, she looked out of the window with brighter eyes and waved. “Miss Lucy! Miss Lucy!”

When I took Natasha out of the car, she held tightly to me. “Mama, Mama.”

I felt her quivering breath as she released me. Tears rolled down from our eyes as we looked at each other, but the anxiety and fear were gone.

“It’s okay to be sad. But it’s good to be happy, too. I love you, baby girl.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

I still had to fix my makeup when I got to work, but this time my heart was intact. I brought Rashida a cup of tea and gave her a big hug.

Maya Fleischmann

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