When Lucy was a little under 4 months old, Justin and I struggled to get her to nap during the day. Nights were improving, but days were labor-intensive. Gloria began nannying for Lucy around the same time and within a week, she had her napping twice a day in stretches of an hour or more.
I will never forget the look of pride on Justin’s face when I came home one of the first afternoons to learn that Lucy was napping. I knew that I should have been pleased, relieved, ecstatic – any sane [sleep-deprived] parent would be – but I was broken. How was it that Gloria could do this and I could not – for my own child?
The days when I did try to get her to nap on my own, with Gloria still here, I would sheepishly exit the room, Lucy in my arms, and feel my cheeks burning with shame that I couldn’t provide this most basic comfort to my child.
I began to dread the days when Gloria worked full-time. I preferred Tuesdays and Thursdays when she left at noon and left me with the task of getting Lucy to nap all on my own. By the time Justin got home from work those days, I was a frazzled, exhausted mess.
Eventually, I learned to relish in Gloria’s feat. I recognized that Lucy’s happiness was priority one, not my own feelings of inadequacy as a mother. Thank goodness, someone could get Lucy to sleep. I even discovered that babies often have a hard time falling asleep with their own moms because they can detect our milk and have expectations to eat (who knew I smelled so good? – or bad – depending on whom you ask). In time, I learned to put Lucy down for naps, on my own. I even began to appreciate Gloria’s fulltime days because it meant that maybe I could take a little time for myself, knowing that Lucy was in good hands.
Problem was, Lucy was in really good hands. Only this time, it wasn’t just naps, it was everything. After waking up in the morning and having a good play together, Lucy and I would enter the kitchen to find Gloria. Lucy would go nuts, nearly leaping from my arms and into Gloria’s. After getting ready for work, I would kiss Lucy goodbye, tell her that I loved her, and then slink away, listening to her contagious laughs and enthusiastic gurgles, all a result of Gloria, all the way to the car.
A friend tried to reassure me by telling me that during the day, her son often spent more time with his nanny than with her, and he never confused them. I told her that Lucy cried when Gloria left the room the other day. “Oh,” she said with some surprise, “well that never happened to us.” I quietly slipped away from the conversation and, for a third time, I broke down in tears.
I tried, half-heartedly, to see the value in Lucy’s new interactions. Her ability to bond with people, other than her parents, meant that we were creating a loving and caring holding environment for her at home. She was developing rapidly each day, and she was learning Spanish, all thanks, in part, to Gloria. But I continued to wake each morning despondent and dreaded noon when it was time to return home. Why bother going home at all? I asked my seriously pathetic self. I mean, if she wanted Gloria, she could have Gloria. Was I leaving her with someone else for too long each day? Did Lucy even know that I was her mother?
Then, one Saturday, I had an epiphany. On the weekends, Lucy didn’t look for Gloria when we emerged from her room – as if she knew which days Gloria came and which days she spent with me. Which also meant that Lucy not only loved me, but she was smart, too! A retrospective of the last few months played thru my mind and I realized that Lucy had never replaced me, she had simply accepted Gloria.
And yesterday, as if knowing that I needed a little extra reassurance, Lucy looked right at me and said “mama”…twice.
Just then the mother bird came back to the tree. “Do you know who I am” she said to her baby.
“Yes, I know who you are,” said the baby bird.
“You are not a kitten. You are not a hen. You are not a dog. You are not a cow. You are not a boat, or a plane, or a Snort! You are a bird, and you are my mother.”
~Excerpt from Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman