I am on my way to work when it hits me. That feeling when you forget something. I start and know that there is something, some indefinable thing lost or hidden. I experience something like it relatively often – for example when the brushing of Kaia’s teeth with adult tooth paste has caused a delay in the morning ritual, and I hurry out the door suspecting that either keys, telephone, purse or travel card have been mysteriously swallowed up by the house behind me. But this is not the same. It causes a jolt in my system, something shifts, a spring in a clock work.
I realise that what is missing is Nor. The panic sends a single chock wave through my system before it dawns on me. Nursery. She is at the nursery. The chock recedes, I straighten and continue forward. I convince myself that we are both going through a process of separation after months of being together. It is painful, but I rationalize: She has to get through it, it is good for her to be with other kids, she needs a more challenging environment now. It is still painful, and when I leave her crying at the nursery, positively horrid.
And I feel that the rationalization is really a front for another truth. I just left my child. In the care of people she does not know. Sweet, competent and caring people, but still – people she does not know. I contemplate how difficult that must be for her considering how exhausted she still gets after as small a thing as a long bath.
In Christian Jungersens novel Undtagelsen (The Exception, ed.) one of the characters describes a psychological study which shows that actions precede values. (To me the best facts are always wrapped in fiction). You might assume that your values form the basis of your actions, but in fact sometimes it is the other way around. You make decisions and adjust your values accordingly.
Even though Jungersen is trying to describe the human capacity for evil, I think the thesis is easily translatable to other circumstances. For example when I drop off Nor at the nursery and feel with every fibre of my body that I ought to pick her up and run out the door. Instead I smile and wave like a woman possessed and turn my back on Nor, who cries and cries. BUT as soon as I leave, she stops, (does not it matter that she cries, then?), and it is good for her to be with other kids (better than to be with her parents?)
I am often told that it is best for children to start nursery around the age of 1, since they are curious and ready for challenges outside the home, and even that starting later will make the transition between home and day care more difficult. It makes me wonder what they tell themselves in the Netherlands, where parents have 16 weeks of payed leave, and children consequently start life in day care much earlier. Maybe that it is in fact easier for a baby to get used to strangers than a one year old.
And that is interesting. Of course you are shaped by the society in which you are integrated, but to such an extent that the structure of society itself dictates truth? Since it is our right to take 52 weeks of payed parental leave in Denmark, does that mean that it is best for the child to attend nursery from around that age? Compared to other countries, the agreement is indeed privileged; nevertheless it is more the outcome of a political compromise than anything else. Depending on the child, the best time to attend day care might very well be both before and after 52 weeks.
The Danish society is built around an extensive childcare system and hardworking parents. The collective consciousness has condoned this system, so there is no rational explanation to my unrest. And I know from experience that it will not take more than a couple of months before both of us have gotten used to the new routine, and the unrest will wear off. I am assimilated into the institutional truth and my daughter is an integrated child of the child care system.
The chock is perhaps an echo, a memory written on my body of another truth. It sucks to leave your kids in child care. And at the same time, it is quite all right. They are better off at home, and they are better off there. It all fits, but it does not. In the meanwhile, I am separated from my little Pantalaimon, and until we are both completely assimilated, going to work will continue to be a panic-inducing affair.
Note: In Denmark parents are entitled to 52 weeks of payed parental leave. Some of this is payed for by the employer and the rest is received through social security. In addition, parents are entitled to an extra 14 weeks of leave at their own expense.