Taking a year off work to look after my two-year-old daughter was the best decision I have ever made. There is no way I can quantify how brilliant it is to spend all this time with a toddler who glows with joy all day. But six months in, we need to spend some time apart. Happily, the feeling is mutual.
It is not that we don't get on any more. We have a great time all morning, and for most of the afternoon. But towards the end of each day, normally when I am trying to make her supper, all good humour has evaporated. She tries to stop me cooking, because she thinks I am selfishly neglecting her so I can hang out in the kitchen. As she grabs at my legs I come out with some petulant teacherism about "not doing this for my own good you know". She cries and says she wants her mum to come home. I don't cry, but I do want her mum to come home.
A solution has mercifully landed in our collective lap. We had put her name down for a couple of nurseries, with a view to her starting part-time before Christmas and full-time next year. Then last week our favourite one called and said they unexpectedly had two days a week available immediately. We asked the little lady if she would like to start going to the nice school we had taken her to see. She gave a unhesitating "yes" before adding, emphatically, that she wanted to go "on my own... not with Mummy, not with Daddy."
So that was clear, she wants to hang out with people her own age, and I get some time to remember what being an adult is like. I can read a newspaper without little hands batting away at it. I can make a phone call without her saying she wants to talk to them, by which she means cut them off and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on YouTube.
Today is her first day. I thought I would be one of those parents who finds themselves sniffling at the gates as they watch their little darling toddle off to be looked after by strangers. Thankfully she made it easy for me by engineering a massive falling-out at the uncharacteristically early time of 8am. She refused to let me get her dressed, refused to eat her breakfast, whined and generally acted the child-demon. Never mind Ofsted ratings, at that point I'd have left her out for the binmen.
So instead of feeling tearful, I dropped her off with a relief that was almost physical, like breathing again after you have snorkelled down too deep. Comparing spending time with your daughter to the feeling of drowning sounds mean, but even the loveliest child has a way of bringing you close to losing your sanity. It's the relentlessness, the questions, the constant demands, the "daddy, daddy, DADDY!"
So I skipped off into my carefree adult world with a whole day to do whatever I wanted at my own pace. I read, I called friends, I planned what exciting work I could start doing with my new-found freedom. Then slowly my mood started to dip. I wasn't sure what it was. The sun was shining, I was out and about and nobody was telling me what to do. Then it hit me, sitting on a bench by the river. I missed her. There she was, laughing and playing with her new nursery friends, and I missed her.
Luckily it's not long until I have to go and pick her up. But already I'm wondering what it will be like when she sees me. Will she have missed me as much as I've missed her? Will she be glad I'm there to get her, or will I need to drag her out screaming? Is it awful that I hope she has quite enjoyed it but prefers hanging out with me?
Ah well, we've still got the rest of the week to spend together, and hopefully now we'll appreciate it more and won't fall out as much. Not that there's anything wrong with an argument, it makes it easier to spend time apart. At least for a little bit.
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