Leaving your child with strangers.
I walk over the bridge to the housing side of base, pushing my British pram through the curved metal arches that remind me of a whale’s ribcage. My daughter is snuggled into her seat, her pink corduroy coat causing her arms to stick out stiffly, like that kid in that Christmas movie. I like that she has pink corduroy ears attached to the hood. They flop happily whenever I hit a big bump. Tall pine trees sway in the morning breeze. It’s what my English in-laws would call “fresh” out. The sun rises watery yellow against the grey clouds. It’s supposed to snow soon.
I’m later than I planned. Turns out getting myself and a not-yet eight-month-old ready takes longer than expected. I feel like a single parent – and I am, for right now – though I have the love and support of my husband from Ol’ Blighty. He’s bringing in the bacon; I’m just supplementing it. Mostly, so we can afford day care. How’s that for a catch-22?
I push the white buzzer at the entrance. The door unlocks. I enter the warm reception area and park the pram next to two chairs with marvelous stains. I hear children screaming – in a good way – down the hall. My daughter looks up at me from the depths of her car seat; her cheeks are bright red from the walk. I unbuckle her, tug her too-big coat off her pudgy arms, and wonder if carrying a baby while in uniform is against the regs.
I met the woman who greets me two months ago as I walk through the door. She holds her arms out for the transfer as I try not to make this a big deal. It’s not. Thousands of working parents drop their kids off every day like this, relinquishing the responsibility, the trust, the power of raising your kid to complete strangers. My daughter immediately starts exploring the lady’s nose and eyebrows. I ignore the simultaneous pangs of jealousy and guilt in my gut.
I don’t cry. I didn’t think I would. I’m far too busy completing logistical gymnastics, making sure my daughter’s bottles have the same colored tape on them, signing in, providing a change of clothes in case of poo. There are no more tasks. I wave goodbye, even though my daughter is looking the other way.
I will be back in nine-and-a-half hours.