They are the very essence of parenting, are they not? They begin before our children are even born. Whether or not to even have a child. Whether to have a second, a third, or more. Whether to use an OB or a midwife, whether to get genetic screening done, whether to have an epidural. And these decisions are only the very tip of the iceberg. After our children are born, the really hard work begins. We make hundreds of different decisions each and every day that will affect our children in some way or another.
Some decisions are bigger than others. And some have life-changing implications that we never could have imagined when we made them. Like whether to take your sick child to the ER at 4AM or wait for the doctor’s office to open a few hours later.
Last week, we made the very difficult decision to pull Jackson back out of day care at St. Ann’s after only three weeks.
For months leading into January, I was waffling back and forth about whether we really needed to put him in school at all. I knew that I would need more time for the extra work that the spring semester at my adjunct professor job at GW would bring, as well as time for packing up the house and getting it ready to put on the market. Let alone some extra time for the longer and longer workouts I would have to do as I prepared for my triathlon in April. But still, I wondered if I couldn’t manage it without putting him in day care. I was worried about germs and separation anxiety and not spending enough time with him during these early months. Maybe I could get a babysitter to come to the house and be with him for several hours a day while I worked or packed or exercised. But two things kept me hanging on to the idea that St. Ann’s was the right thing right now. One was simple economics. St. Ann’s is insanely affordable. Even though I was only planning to have Jackson in school about 25 hours a week, the cost would still be equal to or less than hiring a babysitter, and it meant I could avoid all the hassle of paying taxes and also that I had the flexibility to use more care if needed during a given week without paying anything additional. But the other much more important reason was emotional. St. Ann’s was Hudson’s home for almost half her life. The vast majority of our social circle here in DC revolved around St. Ann’s and our friends with children there. It felt like our family and I missed it so much. I wanted so much to be a part of it again.
I realized on our very first day of orientation, when I took Jackson in for about two hours, that you really can’t go home again. I guess part of me thought that being back at St. Ann’s would somehow feel like a revival or a restoration, that having another child there would be like more salve on the still-bleeding wound that was left when Hudson died. So very sadly, I had the opposite experience. Although I was so very gratified by how much love we received from the second we walked through the door and so very grateful for the way everyone remembered us and hugged us and remarked about how much Jackson looked like Hudson, I felt nothing but sadness and emptiness every time we were there. As part of our routine, I would bring Jackson in around 9 and nurse him at school so that I could get away with leaving only one bottle for him before picking him back up around 3 in the afternoon. So I spent a good 20-30 minutes there each morning. In his class are five other children. Two are close to him in age—one is two months older than him and the other is two weeks younger. Both are the children of close friends, younger siblings of Hudson’s friends. The other three are nearing two years old. All the babies’ birthdays are posted on the wall and one morning as I sat there nursing Jackson, I had the terrible realization that two of those children were born within the week before Hudson died, one on May 6 and one on May 7 (the day the last picture we have of Hudson was taken). The other was born a few months after she died. As I looked at those children, all of whom are now older than Hudson was when she died, I realized that she would be THAT much older now if she were alive. She would be that big a kid older. She would be more than twice as old as she was when she died. These kids are already stringing words together and napping on cots and drinking from cups and doing things Hudson never grew old enough to do (she was supposed to transition from her crib to her cot on the Monday after she got sick—I’d signed the form that Friday when I picked her up).
On top of that, I often ran into Hudson’s own peers in the hallways, running and jumping and talking up a storm. None of them know who I am, of course, because we basically haven’t seen each other since Hudson died with the exception of one birthday party and a few occasional run-ins in the neighborhood. I passed their parents, all of whom are our dear friends, whom we do still see not infrequently, coming in and out of school and I could never help but feel so very strange, like too much had changed for these encounters to ever feel normal again.
I’d hoped I would feel uplifted being back at St. Ann’s, but instead, I felt haunted, sad, and tired. It was a rare day that I did not go back to my car and cry after dropping Jackson off in the morning.
And from the beginning, I’d been worried about Jackson. Not about him feeling comfortable there—he seemed totally fine from the very first moment I set him down on the floor. He never cried when I left (or even seemed to notice I was leaving) and always seemed happy whenever I picked him back up. But from the first day, I saw the gushing runny noses and heard the hacking coughs, and I cringed. Did I really NEED to leave him there with all those germs? And as crappy a sleeper as he is at home, he’s ten times worse at school (oh, so very like his sister, who once had her picture taken when she’d fallen asleep SITTING UP in the crib because she was so stubborn about napping)—there are too many distractions and noises to pay attention to. On the first day, he didn’t nap at all, and for the remaining days, they managed to get him down here and there by rolling him up and down the hallway in a stroller. But even though he’s a bad napper at home, at least I could manage to get him to take two naps, short ones though they were. I was worried about him getting sleep-deprived, that the bad naps would interfere with the very delicate balance of overnight sleep we’d finally struck (him sleeping straight through from 7 until 4:30, nursing once, and then sleeping until 7 or 7:30. And finally, I was worried about not being able to pump enough milk to even give him a 4- or 5-oz bottle once a day until he turned a year old. I was barely getting 2 ounces per session total, even though I was pumping on both sides. We blew through the milk we’d stored in the freezer in no time and I was really beginning to stress about it.
So last week, when the director sent an email to all the parents saying that a lot of kids had been diagnosed with RSV and pneumonia, I had to do some real soul-searching about whether we were doing the right thing right now. Not only the right thing for Jackson, but the right thing for me, because really, I’d felt little more than anxiety and sadness since he first started there on January 2. I’d been on the fence about day care for so long that the news of the RSV outbreak really felt like maybe it was a sign telling me to go with my gut and take him out.
So I did. We gave our notice on Friday. I cried through most of the writing of the email to the director. Not surprisingly, she was so very kind and understanding, saying she could tell it had been hard and “draining” for me. What a good word. She is a reader of the blog, so thank you again, Barbara, for your kindness.
I still haven’t figured out all the details about how we’re going to manage for the rest of the spring. But I do know in my heart that as hard as the decision was, it was the right thing for us right now. I know because as sad as I was when I sent that email, I also felt utter relief.
Difficult decisions are the stuff of good parenting. Some decisions are harder than others. Some ultimately prove to be wrong. Others ultimately prove to be right. Sometimes we never know.
I’ll never know whether I made the right decision by waiting to take Hudson to the doctor’s office rather than take her to the ER. It is a decision I will question for the rest of my life. But One Good Thing I can take from that awful experience is that it makes lots of otherwise very difficult decisions, like the one to take Jackson out of school, look much less difficult in comparison.