My son is home alone with a babysitter for the very first time. It’s been exactly five minutes since I left them there and I’m wondering how long I reasonably have to wait before texting to see if they’re okay. I’m sitting in a coffee shop across the street. Literally across the street. I can see our building out the window. If she was to actually turn out to be a kidnapper (as I worried to my husband last night that she might be) I would be able to see her absconding with my son and run out to stop her. (Or at least call the police as I tripped over my chair and got tangled in the strap of my backpack trying to rush out the door.)
But she’s not a kidnapper. (At least I’m pretty sure she’s not.) She’s a very nice and capable-seeming woman who I hired through a reputable website and whose references I thoroughly checked. My son seems to genuinely like her and I’ve been impressed with her promptness and her willingness to do the kinds of messy art projects my son loves.
He hardly even noticed when I left. I’d gotten them all set up with Play-Doh and I’d snuck around the house getting ready (just putting on my shoes for no reason at all, nothing to see here. Just putting my computer in a bag because sometimes I feel like putting things in bags. Don’t worry!). Then I put on my most cheerful smile and said, “Okay, Mommy’s going out for a little while and you guys are going to stay here and play. I’ll be back soon.” “Okay, bye-bye Mommy!” he said, absently giving me a kiss and turning back to the Play-Doh star the babysitter was making for him. “Uh, bye.”
So, I left. And I took my shoes and my computer in a bag across the street and sat down. Alone. It’s not like I’d never been anywhere without my son before. I’ve left him with my husband millions of times. And I’ve left him with his grandparents too (though they live far away so, not too often). But never with a stranger. (I know, I know, the babysitter isn’t exactly a stranger. Not in the way that, say, the man with the handlebar mustache and the monocle who got on my train the other day is a stranger. And strange too. But I digress.) But she isn’t family. She’s not a friend. And we only just met. So, basically, a stranger. And I’ve trusted her with my son. Is it time to go back yet?
I recognize that there’s another way I could be feeling. I could be feeling something like: Hooray! Yippee! Woo-hoo! I’m free! I’m free! I’m free! And doing a little dance of some kind right here in the sort of hipster-ish coffee shop that I’ve chosen only for its proximity to my apartment (they don’t even have vanilla lattes here!). In fact, there will definitely be at least one comment on this article about how crazy and anxious and psychotic I am for worrying about leaving my son with a babysitter. Someone telling me to calm down and get over myself or something like that. (The comment is there, isn’t it? Go check, I’ll wait.)
And, actually, I do feel that way just a little bit. (Not psychotic. But free.) Behind the anxiety (my constant companion), and the fear, and the newness of it all, there is a sort of vista of possibilities tentatively unfurling in my mind. A little voice starts whispering things like date night, and getting more work done and actually visiting the eye doctor so I can update my prescription and stop bumping into things. But the voice is quiet. And it’s new. And it’s going to need to cede the floor (at least for now) to the worry of it all.
I wait half an hour before texting. They’re fine, she responds. Still playing with Play-Doh and having a great time. I breathe a sigh of relief. They’re fine. Wait. They’re fine?! But what about separation anxiety? What about Where’s my mommy? What about tears and standing by the door and worry. What about me?! Am I totally interchangeable with a stranger he met only last week for about twenty minutes?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m not. I’m his mom and he loves me. It means he’s attached and secure and blah, blah, blah. But his lip could have at least trembled a little. His brow could have furrowed. He could have asked, in that adorable little lisp of his, “Mommy come back?” or something maudlin like that. But he didn’t, he was fine. He’s fine.
So I face the truth: it wasn’t my son who wasn’t ready to be left with a babysitter. It was me who wasn’t ready to leave him. I mean, he used to live inside my body. Across the street is pretty far away compared to that. And then there will be preschool, and actual school, and college, and pretty soon he’ll only be calling on holidays and when he needs something.
But I did it. I left him with her. And I’m taking some time to myself. To catch up on my worrying. (Which I never seem to have enough time for.) But really, it’s a milestone. A mommy milestone, not a baby one. I’ll raise my non-vanilla latte to that. Now, when do I get to go home?