Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Landing the helicopter

I write this while sitting in an empty house. For the first time, I have left Toddler (who will henceforth be known as Preschooler) at preschool.

I keep thinking about the phrase 'landing the helicopter'. It's a phrase I've had flitting around my mind since Preschooler was around 18 months and I first plucked up the courage to take her to soft play and actually force myself to sit and let her work things out for herself. I meant to blog about it at the time, but kept putting it off - just as I have put off letting her go and explore without me.

I have tried to gradually put myself in the background, but it's hard. I am an anxious person, so I tend to worry about Preschooler getting injured, or having a fall out with another child. As she learns social skills I'm very conscious that she will need a guide in this, and I want her not only to be kind to others but also to be able to stand up for herself. When we first started going to play groups she would occasionally be 'pushed about' by other children, both mentally and physically, and I wanted her to know that she didn't need to accept that treatment and that she could always turn to me. But now, of course,she's so much bigger and more than capable of holding her own, I need to let her fight her own battles.

She started her settling in sessions at preschool at the beginning of December, and has had 5 or 6 sessions already, but I've never felt able to leave her before. I kept making excuses - she was upset about getting too cold when playing outside, it was the last session before Christmas and I wanted to watch them singing their songs, it was the first session back and she seemed a bit unsure. But really, I knew she wasn't that unsure. I knew I was the one having trouble letting go.

On Friday I took her to her usual music group and watched her standing right at the front, copying the actions of the leader, practically oblivious to me. Even then I talked to other mums about how I wasn't sure about leaving her yet, how separation-sensitive she is. But I knew deep down that I was kidding myself.

In my defence, there was a time when she was very separation-sensitive. As a baby, she wanted to be held almost constantly. As a toddler, she would keep checking in on me whilst playing, wanting me to be involved in her games, getting upset when I had to go out to work. And I responded to that as well as I could. I left my old job and, after a few efforts to find a new one, decided she needed me at home more than we needed the extra money. I cuddled her when she cried, only occasionally resorting to leaving her if I absolutely needed to, either practically or mentally. I allowed her to be firmly attached to me.

And now it's payback time. She's a preschooler now, and I can let her go off and find out about the world without me. This weekend I decided to try leaving her in the creche at church to see how she'd cope. I sat listening to a sermon for the first time in about two and a half years, while also listening out for the sound of the door in case the creche supervisor needed me to come back. But of course she didn't. Preschooler was absolutely fine without me.

It's taken me a while to change my thinking about Preschooler, to tell myself that she's not as separation-sensitive as she used to be. The changes the last year has brought have been so subtle that I still think of her as if she were still just turned two. But she's now a headstrong, confident, articulate girl who has learnt that she can trust other adults. She is always so excited to go to preschool and talks about her 'friends' (although I'm not sure she's exchanged more than a few words with any of the children, but hey, I don't remember the rules of preschooler friendships) very affectionately. And I'm so heart-burstingly proud of who she is. I just need to learn to share her.

I'm now completing this post while Preschooler naps upstairs. Having left her for an hour, I went back to find that she'd been absolutely fine, at first she didn't even notice I was back. As I watched her playing outside I felt like I didn't even need to be there - she was having a whale of a time and has clearly formed a bond with her key worker. The other workers all commented on her confidence and it made me so proud once again. She no longer needs me hovering, not even in the background.

It's time to land the helicopter.

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