First Day Back... At Nursery

14/08/2014 16:57 | Updated 20 May 2015

Little boy standing apart from other children, high angle view

It's official: Christmas is over. Yes, I know lots of us went back to work last week but with fairy lights still twinkling, alcohol still circulating in the bloodstream and the knowledge that half the population was still on holiday, it felt like something of a false start.

Now, with the decorations back in the loft, Chris Rea back in his box and the entire nation back at work/school/nursery, there is no escaping the harsh reality of that first grey Monday in January.

And what better way to kick it off than with a nursery run in the rain – all wet prams, screaming/confused toddlers and depressed/late parents.

The first nursery drop of the year turned out to be a bitter sweet experience for me. After spending two weeks with Elliot by my side, I felt a pang of sadness and guilt as I ushered him towards the other children at the breakfast table and walked away as though Christmas had never even happened. And I know he felt something, too.

Usually, there's a slightly awkward moment at this point as he tucks straight into his cereal and banana without so much as a second glance at mummy. To this day he has never cried when I've dropped him off. Even on his first day, he didn't flinch when I left the room.

It does help that food trumps everything in Elliot's world. One sniff of a biscuit and even the nastiest bump on the head is forgotten in a flash.

But it's awkward all the same, not least when the other kids seem more upset about me leaving the room than my own son.

One or two of them usually start crying because the sight of me reminds them of their own mummies, some reach their arms out and call out "Mummy", others even start getting out of their seats and heading towards me for a cuddle or to hand me a snot-covered Stickle Brick.

But Elliot? Nah. Mummy? Mummy, who?

It usually plays out something like this:

"Bye then, sweetie!"

No reaction.

"Elliot, I'm leaving now. See you tonight."

Still nothing.

The staff usually look slightly embarrassed for me by this point and try to help things along.

"Say goodbye to mummy, Elliot. Elliot, mummy's leaving now."

Elliot stays focused on his bowl, the contents already half devoured.

Oh, forget it. I give up and walk out feeling partly rejected and partly proud (I'm told this is a sign I've raised a secure and independent child).

But today was different.


As I crouched down to take his coat off, faffing with the zip, which was stuck as usual, he just stood there perfectly still with his head bowed, occasionally glancing up at me with big sad puppy-dog eyes.


"You're going to have your breakfast now, darling, look," I said, signalling to the cereal boxes and huge mound of toast on the table.

He glanced over nonplussed and looked back at me, holding my gaze.

"I've got to go now, sweetie," I said, walking him over to the table. He kept looking at the cereal then looking up at me.

Eventually one of the assistants, picked him up, plonked him in a chair and served up a bowl of Rice Krispies. He sheepishly picked up his spoon then shot a glance over at me. I was edging out of the room.

"Bye darlin'"

I saw the tiniest flicker in his bottom lip and a look of confusion and hurt. This was a first for me and for a moment I thought my own bottom lip was about to start going.

One of the carers winked at me. "He'll be okay," she whispered. "You go."

I walked out feeling like the cruellest woman on the planet. Should I go back in? No, you're supposed to make a clean break. Be cruel to be kind.

Then, halfway downstairs, I realised I'd left my bag on the floor, next to the breakfast table. I hovered by the door, bracing myself for a potential meltdown. Poor Elliot. What was I doing to him?

I strode back in. Be strong. But Elliot wasn't crying. He'd already eaten his Rice Krispies and was now entertaining the pretty young lady next to him by tapping his nose with his spoon and saying "beep, beep".

I tried to grab the bag without him noticing but it was too late.

"Mummy!" he shouted with a big smile.

"Hi sweetie. Mummy has to go now but you'll be..."

"BYE!" he shouted at the top of his voice.

He grabbed a piece of toast from the middle of the table and turned back to his little friend.

"Bye then," I mumbled and sloped off.

Elliot wasn't going to miss me too much after all, I thought.

Then when I arrived home to face the first deadlines of the year, I realised that for the first time in two whole weeks, I was completely and utterly alone in the house. Total. Peace.

I made a coffee, switched on my computer, breathed a long, unadulterated sigh of relief and thought, "Do you know what Elliot? I love you to bits and all that but the feeling is entirely mutual..."

Life Skills For Toddlers

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