Yep I know he’s 19 months old, nearly 20, but last night marked my first night away from Little J. Some people I know find that hard to believe but I was breastfeeding for the first 16 months of his life and since then haven’t had the need or desire to leave him for a night (well actually if he’s woken up x number of times I’ve had both the need and the desire but you know…).
So last night…it was my old school’s inaugural alumni dinner. I’m still good friends with my group of eleven school girls, we see each other regularly and message daily. They were all keen for this dinner and two months ago when I agreed to it I thought it might be a ‘good thing’ to do on my parenting journey.
Hmm. Now is probably an opportune moment to note that any simple night away is, for me, a tad more complicated. I have a pesky panic disorder that makes going away specifically very hard work for me. It started when I was about nine or ten and continued until I was 18…I didn’t do sleepovers, school trips…I was the only one in my entire (albeit small) year at school who didn’t embark on Duke of Edinburgh. I didn’t know I was having panic attacks then…it was terrifying. At 18 I had ten glorious panic-free years and I took my opportunity; went to university, travelled the world and worked all over the place. Then almost four years ago the panic attacks came back…with a vengeance.
In some ways I’m grateful. Well no I’m not actually, I’m not grateful at all! But I’m resigned. Returning in such a big way at this age meant I sought help in a different and more considered fashion to when I was younger. And so as a totally growed up grown up I undertook research; I learnt about the brain, had a course of CBT, tried mindfulness, and learnt strategies to cope with anxiety and panic.
Despite that, panic still added a layer of emotional complication this weekend to an already interesting milestone of leaving LJ, and also being further away from him than ever before in terms of distance. My old school is about a two hour drive from my house and I’d planned my excursion this weekend to give myself the best possible chance of not panicking. LJ was at home with my mother-in-law during the day and then Andrew overnight. I drove and didn’t drink so I could leave any time. I also stayed in a hotel rather than with family or friends so I could bail out at any time without awkward conversations.
And… Tick, tick and tick…worked a treat and no panic!
I actually really enjoyed it. I was confident about LJ being safe, and regular check-ins assured me he was happy. I do think when you are part of something that means the world to you, you carry it with you and wear it like a large confidence boosting yellow polka dot hat. Being part of my little family definitely acts as my yellow hat…it gives me a feeling of security, knowingness and an inner calm and strength.
I have toyed with some guilt today for having had such a nice time and for leaving him at all when I didn’t actually ‘need’ to but mostly I think it’s brilliant. I’m still me and I ultimately want LJ to know me and sometimes that means I will be out doing things for me, doing all sorts of things that contribute to making me me.
More importantly than all that though was that LJ had a great time…he was pleased to see me when I got home which was so sweet, but he had a very happy weekend. He was completely normal and himself, he was cheerful and slept well (far better than when I’m in the house).
A number of my friends find it hard to understand that I’ve only just left LJ and as for breastfeeding until he wanted to stop…well I felt like a pariah at times. The same friends (and more) tell me it’s a ‘good thing’ to leave them as soon as possible overnight to get them used to being away from you. They also tell me that nursery is really ‘good for’ a baby and controlled crying is doing ‘what’s best’ for them.
I think dependence breeds independence and I see that so much with LJ. He’s only little but so naturally confident, inquisitive and sociable. I don’t know if nursery or preschool will be ‘good’ for him but I think he will really enjoy at some point in the future when he’s ready. I didn’t believe that leaving him overnight as soon as possible would have been a ‘good thing’, or indeed practical given breastfeeding, and I hope tonight and the coming days don’t reveal difficult repercussions from this weekend. But what I can say with little doubt is that completing this particular parenting milestone at this particular time was actually a VERY good thing indeed…for me.