The ghost of guilty Mammy as baby starts crèche

‘Why are you putting your ca­reer first?’ ‘How can you leave your pre­cious lit­tle boy?’ taunts the ghost

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Keep­ing Mum

There are so many lit­tle happy mo­ments as a par­ent. They’re lay­ered in be­tween the slices of monotony such as pick­ing din­ner up off the floor and wip­ing dirty faces.

Tick­les on the chang­ing ta­ble and preschooler hugs when mak­ing Lego are like jam to make bread taste good. These mem­o­ries melt to­gether and fade into a folder in my brain marked “happy child­hood”.

Then there are mo­ments that leave a scar and stand out. They aren’t the easy ones – a dif­fi­cult birth, a child’s first se­ri­ous sick­ness, or this week as my baby started crèche.

Wounds of first sep­a­ra­tion from my now three-year-old boy re­opened as I left his lit­tle brother Louis for an in­duc­tion hour. I had bat­ted this day away with an “it’ll be grand” wave ev­ery time the topic arose.

Sud­denly, the day was upon me. In a fog as I rang the door­bell. Louis was so dis­tracted by ev­ery­thing new in his room, plot­ting how to make his way to the ball-pond in the cor­ner and smil­ing sus­pi­ciously at the other ba­bies, that I quickly snuck out the door.

“That was easy,” I thought as I walked down the street. Al­though I was “free” , I didn’t feel it. Some­thing made my legs heavy, my head fuzzy, my chest tight and made me stand and look around for no rea­son. It was the ghost of guilty mammy, a tow­er­ing an­cient fig­ure who has haunted me in re­cent weeks.

An overzeal­ous greet­ing from a child­min­der is never a good thing. An hour later, she met me at the door with my baby who was trans­formed into a red-eyed zom­bie from cry­ing. In my arms he still sobbed. His back, usu­ally soft as a teddy bear, was hard like a stressed of­fice worker stooped over a key­board.

“She’s right, what am I do­ing?” I thought.

The ghost of guilty mammy whis­pers in my ear ques­tions like, “Why are you go­ing back to work?”

“Why are you putting your ca­reer first?”

“How can you leave your pre­cious lit­tle boy?” “Why are you try­ing to have it all”? Dad­dies get haunted by guilt too. But at this par­tic­u­lar life junc­ture, the end of ma­ter­nity leave, it feels like it is only Mammy who is choos­ing work over her chil­dren. This is, af­ter all, a coun­try where ma­ter­nity leave can­not be split be­tween par­ents, where fa­thers only get two weeks of paid pa­ter­nity leave and the Con­sti­tu­tion, for now, recog­nises the life of a mother within the home.

My weak­est mo­ments

The ghost of guilty mammy comes to me at my weak­est mo­ments. This is one of them. Aside from leav­ing Louis for a few hours with his daddy and asleep with grand­par­ents, it is

our first sep­a­ra­tion.

“They won’t know how to pat his back in that spot just above the tail of his spine as he goes for his nap, they won’t un­der­stand the “heh heh heh” noise he makes when he wants a bot­tle, they won’t know that if you snug­gle the crown of your head into the mid­dle of his tummy it makes him gig­gle, they won’t know that he’s frightened by peo­ple mak­ing lion roars but loves silly rasp­ber­ries,” taunts the ghost.

I will never again know ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing about Louis. But he can’t stay in the safety of the parental co­coon for­ever.

The co­coon cre­ated eight months ago when we brought him out the doors of Holles Street on a cold De­cem­ber day, bun­dled into in his car seat wear­ing an over­sized colour­ful woolly cardi­gan.

There is a crack in the wall as Louis is be­gin­ning his life out­side of me. He will laugh with­out me, cry with­out me, and he will dance with­out me. It was the danc­ing that got to him on this third trial day in crèche. He soft­ened as he sud­denly re­alised his new min­der can dance and play mu­sic with him. She has a kind smile. She can make him laugh. She can give him bot­tles and food.

I sneak out of the room to the sound of his gig­gles, hop­ing they don’t turn to tears as my smiles have. I go to a cafe around the cor­ner where a car­rot cake takes the edge off my sad­ness. I come back to a happy baby munch­ing cu­cum­ber and drink­ing his bot­tle.

The ghost of the guilty mammy dis­ap­pears.

But this cer­tainly isn’t the last I’ve seen of her.

I sneak out of the room to the sound of his gig­gles, hop­ing they don’t turn to tears as my smiles have.

“Louis is be­gin­ning his life out­side of me. He will laugh with­out me, cry with­out me, and he will dance with­out me.”

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