I opened the door. The sound of babies crying flooded my ears.
Crap, I thought.
My heart sank an inch. I had been fine until this moment.
Babies cry, I thought to myself. It’s practically their job.
I propelled myself further into the large, cheerful-looking room. For a moment, I stood quietly on the Kelly green rug, looking around, clutching C.J., keeping his face close enough to mine that I could feel his breath against my cheek.
Scanning the room, I recognized two other children from C.J.’s old classroom. They must have just moved up too, I thought. Both of them were crying, tears streaming down their little red faces.
My heart inched its way down a little deeper.
Babies in not-so-high chairs were lined up in a row along the front of the class. In front of them, Teacher #1 walked around with a bag of sandwich bread, placing torn-up little pieces on trays in front of them. It reminded me of someone feeding ducks in a pond. Off to the right, Teacher #2 was attempting to feed one of C.J.’s old classmates pureed baby food that looked like pears. I don’t remember what Teacher #3 was doing. Changing a diaper? Looking at papers on a clipboard?
I stood there expectantly. Am I supposed to say something first, or are they? I wondered.
“Hi,” I said, weakly. “This is C.J.”
“Oh,” they all said, sort of in unison.
“Hi, C.J.,” someone said.
“Look at those eyes,” Teacher #2 said, looking at C.J.
I stood there, waiting. For what, I don’t know.
In his old classroom, one or both teachers would rush to greet us, scooping C.J. up in their arms and talking sweetly to him. But this was not his old classroom, and no one was rushing to my baby’s side.
“When did he eat last?” Teacher #2 asked.
“7 a.m.,” I told her.
Teacher #3 came over. I think she introduced herself to me, but I can’t remember. She was not smiling as she reached for the diaper bag slung over my shoulder and put his bottles in the fridge. I asked a few more questions about naps and told them he’s been having a hard time sleeping during the day at school.
“That’s common,” they assured me.
I was still standing in the same spot, still waiting for the warmth his previous teachers had shown us. But they didn’t ask me a single question about my son. And not one of these women — these women I was leaving my child with almost every day for the next five months — made any move to come greet my child, make him smile, make me think they cared, make me feel at ease.
I felt a little bit silly. “Should I put him down somewhere,” I finally asked.
Teacher #2 sort of shrugged. “You can put him on the mat there,” she said.
The floor? I thought to myself.
It’s not that I’m anti-floor — he spends plenty of time there at home. But to bring him in on his first day in a new class and set him down on the floor and leave? It just didn’t feel right. Unsure of what to do, I put him down, hesitantly. He propped himself up on his little hands and looked up. His lower lip puckered out, quivered.
C.J. began to cry. And still, no one came to hold my baby.
This. This was when my heart hit rock bottom.
I tried to play it cool and gave him a minute. When he didn’t calm down, I knelt down beside him and rubbed his back. I scooped him back up, gave him a kiss and set him back down, this time propped up against some soft, colorful blocks. He looked around, no longer crying. I let the teachers know I was going to grab his pacifier from the car, an excuse to distance myself from the situation for a moment.
I fought back tears on my way out. This wasn’t C.J.’s first day at daycare — only his first day in a new classroom. I hadn’t expected it to be difficult. Was it supposed to be? Was I expecting too much of these teachers? Had his previous teachers set the bar too high? Was I experiencing Mommy-melodrama? More than likely, it was a combination of all four. But I couldn’t help but think that on his first day in a new class, C.J. should have been welcomed a bit differently.
I gathered myself, grabbed a pacifier and walked back in, relieved to find Teacher #2 sitting in a chair, holding C.J.
My heart crept back up a quarter of an inch. As I washed off his pacifier, the school’s director walked in to see how it was going for the new kids in the classroom. Another quarter inch up it went.
I knew I had to leave. And I knew he’d be OK. I got in my car and let myself cry for a minute, hoping that when I picked him up later that afternoon, I’d find him smiling or in someone’s arms so that my heart might make its way back up to its rightful spot.