Harder on the parent

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 11, 2007 | ,

I have just left Juniper screaming for me in a room somewhere. Today is her second day of preschool. After I spend a few minutes in the classroom trying to get her to calm down to a point where she could say something without all the mottled cheeks and snot bubbles and tears and tears and tears, I make my final, confident, I'm-so-proud-of-you goodbye, and one of her classmates says to me, "Where are you going?" and the waterworks start all over again. Her teacher shoos me away and intercepts a screaming Juniper, picking up the tangle of kicking legs and arms reaching for me and I rush out into the hallway, shutting the door behind me and standing against it with the relief of a horror movie heroine after a narrow escape, and as I stop to breathe the entire school echoes with her hollering. Dada. I want my dada. Dada don't leave me. Dada don't go outside. Hold me and keep me nice and safe. Dada hold me and keep me nice and safe. And then it's just screaming. Gargoyles up twenty stories all around downtown Detroit crane their necks away from it; stained-glass windows collapse in deadly, saintly shards; birds are rousted from their nests on Belle Isle, as far south as Canada, and Ohio; Aretha Franklin hears the High C and snaps a Z.

In this moment, all anger and frustration and that unfathomable parental longing to do what feels right even when it will only cause further harm, I bang the back of my head against the door and then scoot away in fear that Juniper might know it's me there, I'm just twisting the knife in deeper and deeper by being there, mere feet away, while she feels so abandoned and so alone. And then I'm crying too, and I'm angry while I'm crying, because she's made me so utterly helpless. Other teachers find me with mottled cheeks standing against the lockers and they say, "You must be the father of the screaming child," and I say, "That's right," with a mixture of shame and pride, shame that I'm crying and shame that I've coddled her and shame that she's not quiet and accepting of her fate like the other kids; and there is also pride, this strange defensive pride I can't explain, a mixture of "how dare someone else have any negative opinion about my kid, she's perfect just like she is," and the sick, selfish pride of being loved and needed so badly that she can hardly tolerate life without me, and perhaps also some pride in the knowledge that this is how I was, how I've always been, a pride at how she cries just like me, her face twisting up while she chokes on words just like I always did whenever I had to part with someone I loved for some reason I didn't understand, a pride that she is turning out to be just like me.

Anger and concern and frustration and helplessness and shame and a curious pride, all this in me as I grip the steering wheel and drive away. I remember some trite condolence: "It's harder on the parent than the kid." Of course she will be okay when I get back there. Of course she will hardly notice I've returned. This cleaving of apronstrings is necessary. This unwelcome helplessness, just another curse of parenthood. This was the first of many such partings, of a lifetime of parting. If I'm lucky, it may never be too easy for her.