A father discovers that dropping his young daughter off at preschool creates separation anxiety … for him!
Last week, I drove my daughter a few blocks from our house and abandoned her. Well, I didn’t really abandon her, I just took her to preschool. But it was my first time, and somehow, I felt I’d done something wrong.
When our oldest child was born, my wife and I arranged our schedules so we could spend as much time with her as possible. And for the first two-and-a-half years of her life, at least one of us was with her almost all the time. But as I sat in my car—having just dropped her off for her first day of preschool—I began to wonder what kind of parent I was, leaving her all alone with people I hardly knew. Would they read to her? Could anyone possibly teach her as well as my wife and I had? Who would encourage her? And who would love her? I was nearly overcome with a need to run back to the school, grab her, and take her home where she belonged.
After a few minutes of this sort of thinking, it became painfully clear that my wife and I had spent months preparing the wrong person for our daughter’s first day of school. I fought the urge to go back to the school, and instead drove home and sat down in front of my computer. I tried to remind myself that—up until then, at least—I had actually been looking forward to having my daughter in school, knowing I’d have a lot more time to write. But as I stared dumbly at the screen, I kept thinking that maybe my priorities were in the wrong order. After all, what’s more important, my getting to write a few articles, or making sure my children get the best possible education? Eventually, I had to admit that school was clearly the best place my daughter—especially a school taught by teachers all our friends agree are gifted.
What it really comes down to, I guess, is that I knew I was going to miss my daughter while she was at school. I’d miss the wonderful times we had–the rainy day matinees and museums and sunny day outings, the hours spent cuddling on the couch reading the same book ten times in a row, or sitting at her table drawing. And most of all, I’d miss the long talks we had and the feeling of overflowing joy and pride I got from watching her learn new things and seeing how bright and articulate she’d become.
But missing her wasn’t all there was. I was jealous, too. It somehow just doesn’t seem fair that my daughter’s teachers—people who hardly know her–were going to be the beneficiaries of so much of her company. Oh, sure, the two of us would still have plenty of afternoons together in the park, and we’d still make pizza dough, and soak each other with the hose while watering the garden, and hide under the covers in my bed. But no matter how much time we’d spend together now, I knew it would never seem like enough because I’d always remember the time when I didn’t have to share her with anyone.
She was still so small and helpless, but at the same time, already off on her own. I remembered then (and still do now) going into her room at night when she was a baby and marveling at her angelic, smiling face and her small, perfect body. It was always a struggle not to wake her up to play. Thinking about it now, I realize that I was even jealous of her dreams.
I guess I should have known what I was going to feel as I dropped her off on her first day of school. I remember going to pick her up at the park a few months before. I stood outside for a few minutes, watching her chat and play with her friends. She seemed so mature, so grown up, so independent. Until that moment, I’d felt that I knew her completely. I knew the characters she’d pretend to be, I knew what she liked and didn’t like, and we told each other everything. But watching her interact with other people—sharing secrets I’d never hear—I realized that the process of separating from our parents doesn’t begin by moving out of their house at seventeen or by joining the Marines like I did. It really begins at three, in a park, digging tunnels in the sand with a friend.
Previously published on MrDad