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Where's Mommy? There She Is!

When Madeleine was about three months old, I noticed she started to become more daring, more outgoing, more explorative – but only from the safety circle of a caregiver’s arms.  At her four-month checkup, I tentatively remarked to her pediatrician that I thought Maddie might be going through separation anxiety.  The pediatrician smiled skeptically.  “Jennifer, babies usually go through it at 8 or nine months of age.  In all my years practicing medicine, I’ve only seen one baby go through it this early.”  By the end of the exam, though, she ruefully acknowledged that she was wrong, and Maddie was clearly into separation anxiety.
What can I say?  My girl’s a quick learner.
I naively assumed that early in meant early out, and we’d be over this minor road bump without much trouble at all.
What can I say?  I’m a slow learner.

For Maddie has been dealing with her separation anxiety for around four months now, and it’s only gotten stronger.  Once she realized that Mommy doesn’t cease to exist just because she’s out of sight, it increased exponentially.  Oftentimes if I’m in the room she follows me anxiously with her eyes, no matter that my husband or my mother is holding her, both of who hold her almost as much as I do!  Fortunately for us, her anxiety has yet to take the shape of a screaming fit when I leave; she’s pretty calm if I’m gone for good and she’s with someone else she knows and trusts.  But when I come home from work at night, I walk in to a baby comfortably sitting on Gamma’s lap reading a book.  She looks up, smiles happily at me, coos coyly, to all appearances a contented baby.  The look of contentment continues – no crying, no effort to reach out for me – until I move away to hang up my coat and wash my hands before picking her up.  (Subway – enough said.)  You see the thought process pass across her face:  “Wait a minute.  I just got mommy (who I didn’t realize I was missing) back, and now she’s leaving me.  No. No. NO!”  The anxious look and the hand wringing give way to the whimpering and straining, and finally she’s into a full-blown cry.  All within the space of seconds.
How have I solved this?  I wave like a frenetic theme-park character and babble until she smiles.  Then it’s a running dialog – Mommy’s hanging up her coat!  Out of sight but still here!  Mommy’s going to the kitchen!  Mommy’s getting the soap! – that barely keeps her back from the brink until I’m back in the room and walking towards her with arms outstretched.
And I’ll confess, if no one else will – it feels good to be missed so much.  My cat blinks blearily and looks at me as if she can’t quite recall my name, but Maddie thinks the sun rises and sets around me.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want a piece of that?
As I said, the long separations aren’t bad for her – it’s the around-the-house things.  Every morning, we get Maddie ready for the day first – open the curtains, sing the morning song, get dressed, and she’s ready to face the day.  When the time comes to get Mommy ready, though, it takes some fancy footwork.  Madeleine sits in the middle of my bed – first, it’s soft if she falls over, and second, she’s not crawling and can’t reach the edge – and the dance begins.  If the kitty’s on the bed behind Maddie, that’s a good thirty second diversion as baby girl strains to flip around and stare at the magnificent creature.  If kitty’s not on the bed, Maddie’s menagerie of stuffed animals (kept in my room for this very purpose) surrounds her and she starts crooning to them.  I get dressed and she barely looks at me.  As I walk to the door, though, her head whips up sharply and she looks at me suspiciously.  “Goin’ somewhere, lady?”  I sidle to the door, never turning my back on her as I creep down the hallway towards the bathroom.  “Maddie, let’s play our favorite game – Where’s Mommy?”
One of Maddie’s favorite ways to pass a (long) fifteen minutes is with the Where’s Maddy? game.  Madeleine has a blanket draped over her head, and as someone queries, “Where’s Madeleine?” the little heroine pulls the blanket off with a triumphant grin.  “There she is!” is the relieved cry. 
Repeat fifty times.  It never gets old.  For Madeleine.
At any rate, we play the morning version of that game, but with role reversal, as Mommy finishes getting ready.  “Where’s Mommy?”  Mommy cries as she brushes her teeth.  “There she is!” she shouts as she pops into the hallway.  Maddie, whose eyes have stayed glued to the doorframe, crows with a happiness tinged with relief.  “Where’s Mommy?”  she says again, putting on deodorant.  “There she is!”  Madeleine screams joyfully.  You get the picture.
Daddy, bless his twisted heart, thinks this game is terrifically funny, and on weekends he’ll sit on the bed with Madeleine and thoroughly enjoy watching Mommy pop in and out of the bathroom like a wind-up toy, the two of them forming an appreciative if not slightly disturbing audience.
With Maddie’s wholehearted adoration, Daddy’s gleeful enjoyment of my misery, and the cat curled up pointedly ignoring all of it, I feel like I’m back in dinner theatre.
Enjoy the veal.  I’m here all week.


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