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
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.”