The hardest part of our imminent training isn’t the number of books we have to read, or the number of papers we have to write, or even fitting those things into our daily routine. It isn’t the prospect of being in class again (it’s been a long time!) from 8:00 to 5:00 every day. No, though all of these things are a real challenge for us and are testing our ability to manage stress with patience and determination, the hardest part of the training we’re about spend the better part of a month doing is the reality of being parted from our children for 3 1/2 weeks.
We have no doubt that the family that has offered to watch our kids in our absence is going to be amazing with them. The kids are so excited to be living with Adam and Sarah, it’s almost annoying that Helena asks us every day how many more days there are before she gets to move in with them. Actually, all 4 of our big kids don’t seem to mind at all that their parents are going away for a few weeks. If anything, they’re really excited about it! To be fair, we’re pretty sure that Evangeline (4) is excited because she understands that we have to leave her for a few days so that we can come back and then leave again with her so she can go and see SNOW! She’s very goal-oriented right now.
No, the one we’re actually worried about is Cosette (2).
For the 13 years that we’ve had kids, we have only left them twice for overnight stays without us: our very belated pseudo-honeymoon to Wisconsin and our 2-week exploratory trip to France (note: they stayed with their grandma where there is SNOW). Other than a few isolated sleepovers, our kids see us every day. Thanks to the flexibility of home-schooling, self-employment and also working for a church that valued the importance of family, our kids haven’t had to be apart from their parents but for short periods of time during the day, either with childcare workers that they know well, or in school (when they’ve been in school). Admittedly, there were also times when leaving our children with these qualified and trusted workers ripped our hearts out; when our kids made it very obvious that the only acceptable place for them to be was with us; that, in spite of the good times they had without us, we were forcing them into something against their will. We recognized that this was the way the world operates, and that kids turned out just fine going to childcare all around the world, so our kids should be fine too. But this never sat well with us. We hated the way our kids looked at us, their wordless pleas for us to stay or take them with us. We hated ourselves for putting them through that, all the while trying to rationalize how normal, how natural (?), it all was.
But overall, we’ve been very fortunate as parents, and we believe our kids have too, that we haven’t had many instances where they were forced to be apart from us before they’re ready.
And then there was last Sunday. The worship services at both the church we belong to and the church Jeremy plays the piano for recently changed their service times so that it has become impossible for us to go to church together as a family (something we hope to remedy soon). So Jessica wrangled our 5 kids into the car and to church, and, deciding that it was time Cosette try out the nursery, she encouraged her to go through the little pint-sized door under the check-in counter. Cosette is the most compliant of all our children. She will do things when asked even if she really doesn’t want to, and doesn’t show us that she’s upset until we have her in our arms and she holds onto us for dear life and cries silent tears. This happens with the most simple things, like when we have friends over and someone asks is they can pick her up, or worse, just picks her up without asking. Instead of letting everyone in the neighborhood know what she feels about it, like her big sisters before her, she’ll allow it and just put up with it and then run to her Mommy or Daddy and cling to us when it’s over. You can imagine how worried this makes us as parents. As challenging as it is to have strong-willed, opinionated and expressive children, that is exactly what we want them to be. So with Cosette, until she’s ready to stand up for herself, we really have to watch her body language to try to discern if what she’s agreeing to is something that she really wants to do or if she’s just being compliant.
Back to last Sunday. Cosette reluctantly goes in to the nursery when her Mommy points out that they have Legos in there (her favorite toy right now). Jessica then watches her for a few moments on the little security monitors they have set up outside of the nursery and observes that her little Cosette is just standing next to the wall, not engaging. Troubled, but confident that her little girl will warm up to her surroundings, Jessica goes to hear an outstanding sermon. About 45 minutes later, she returns to the nursery only to see that Cosette is still standing in the same spot next to the wall, and when she gets called out to join her mother, she runs to Jessica, wraps her little arms tightly around her neck and breaks into sobs. The rest of the day, she never left her Mommy’s side, and appeared, as best as we can describe it, depressed. Naturally, we felt terribly guilty about this, wondering if anything happened in the nursery, wondering if she just can’t handle being apart from her parents right now, terrified with how she’s going to deal with the next few weeks. Maybe she was just coming down with something and wasn’t feeling well – the next 2-3 days, she was congested and not acting like herself. But maybe it’s something deeper. With the 20 words or so that she’s mastered, she’s incapable of telling us what the matter was.
Fortunately there will always be at least one sister with her while we’re at training. For the 3 days she’ll be in Houston, it’ll be with all of them, and then when she’s with us in Illinois, though she’ll be in childcare for a good portion of every day, it’ll be with Evangeline. Maybe that familiar face will be enough for her to cope with her separation from her parents. We’re hoping so.
Please keep little Cosette in your prayers, and Evangeline too, as the novelty of snow may not be enough to keep her from missing her parents during the day. Please pray for the childcare workers that will looking after them, that they would be a great fit for our kids. Pray for our big kids enjoying time away from their parents, until they start missing us. Pray for Adam and Sarah, that God bless them with the energy and wisdom to truly enjoy having a house full of kids. And lastly, pray for us, the worried parents of 5 wonderful girls that they will miss very much. Because as stoic as we may appear, we are going to miss them like crazy.