Night Ride on the Guilt Train

July 28, 2006

Editor’s Note: I can totally relate to the feelings of guilt that arise when a child cries in mom’s absence. Fellow MT’ers, how do you deal with separation anxiety? -Elisa

Breaking news: Last night, I went out for two hours even though my 5-year-old was asking me to stay home.  I went because I wanted to, not because I had to.  For fun.  I’ll probably do it again, too.  Bad, bad mommy.

Why is this such a big deal??
I adopted my daughter when I was 43.  Before that, I had once lived with someone for a few years but other than that I have always been living on my own and calling my own shots.  It was quite an adjustment to not be able to do that anymore.  During all those years, naturally I acquired some interests and avocations, and I was not going to be able to bring myself to give them up.  I didn’t feel I should have to, and I knew the resentment I’d feel if I did.  Mommy is a person.  When I was a child, I never particularly had the feeling my mother was interested in much except us, and by the time I was a teenager that was a bit of a burden, let’s say.

However, when you have a baby with recurring sleep issues and you play a form of music that requires you to go meet up with other players in a bar at 9:30 at night, sometimes exhaustion just wins out.  I was wimpy about teaching Emily to be put to bed by a babysitter.  When she was finally out cold, all I wanted to do was to sit in a quiet place and just knit.  The weeknight music sessions that I’d been so dedicated to for years had to wait.

Occasionally, I would schedule a babysitter for 9-11pm, crossing my fingers that Emily would fall asleep on time, and sneak out hoping she would not wake and be badly surprised.  This worked for a long time, so I would try to go every month or two.  Then one night this spring I opened the door at quarter past eleven and heard squalling upstairs.  Busted.

A new approach was needed.  So I told Emily that I would never go out without telling her that I was going and who would be with her.  This worked once.  I told her I was going, she want to bed, I went, I came back, and she slept peacefully.  Then, my regular babysitter went away to 6 weeks of summer camp.  Yesterday, a family friend called to say she’d be in the neighborhood and would I like to go out for 2 hours.  Hooray!

I told Emily that I was going to go for 2 hours after she went to sleep, like I had before, and that Ginny would be in the house.  She seemed fine with this information until it was time for me to leave her room so she could go to sleep.  With tears in her eyes, she said, “Bye Mommy.”  She became progressively more wound up over the course of 45 minutes, and by the time Ginny came she was crying and asking me not to go.

To make a long story short, I went anyway.  I administered a little benadryl to take the edge off her intensity and I said goodnight and I went out the door.

No harm seems to have been done.  She talked to Ginny a few minutes, then stayed in her room and cried for a half hour or so, then went to sleep, 2 hours past her normal bedtime.  This morning she said that she would go to sleep just fine if I did it again as long as it was the babysitter she was “used to.”

But.  I won’t say that my evening was spoiled, but….

According to her paperwork, my daughter was brought by a woman (her mother??) to a village clinic late at night and left there.  The woman said the doctor needed to come because her baby had diarrhea, then asked if she could run out to get water, and never returned.  The doctor determined the baby was healthy and about 3 weeks old.

So I can’t help but think: Somewhere in her mind, is there a brain cell that has an emotional memory of a mother who left at night, saying she’d be right back, and never came?  There are people who say you should never, ever take any approach to sleep with an adopted child that involves you NOT going to your child when they call you.  I am not sure I believe it is possible for her to have any sort of memory of that first primary separation, but who knows?  There are many people who believe the opposite.

Does she believe on an emotional level that I won’t come back if I leave at night, because once someone else didn’t come back?  How can I ever teach her that I will come back, if I never leave?  What would you have done?