Several weeks ago I spent the afternoon at a busy new playground with my kids. The playground was so large and so full of children that it was all I could do to try to keep a headcount on all four children. I spent the day saying, "There's Toby...and there's Naomi and Hannah...now, where's Emma? Oh, OK, there's Emma. Now where did Toby go?" Over and over I counted their heads, or their shoes or shirt or whatever body part I could see across the equipment and through the crowds of children.
On one round through their names I was hung-up for a few seconds longer than normal looking for Emma, and by the time I spied her in a tunnel and went back to looking for Toby he had completely vanished. I spent ten seconds more scanning the equipment, then called out to Naomi and Hannah, but they hadn't seen him either. After he'd been missing about thirty seconds my heart began to race. I walked quickly around the entire playground, but he was nowhere. I hurriedly scanned the trees surrounding the park, and finally spotted him wandering off among the trees and down a hill. He was whimpering to himself, "Mommy! Mommy, Mom-my!" When I called out to him and he saw me a huge grin crossed his face. He came running at full speed and threw his arms around me.
"Toby," I scolded him, "You can't leave the playground! Mommy will not leave without you. If you can't find me you stay at the playground, but do not leave Mommy!" He sat with me on a bench for awhile, then asked to play again, and so I gave him the speech once more. "Yes, you may play, but stay where you can see me. Don't leave Mommy!" He agreed, and obeyed, and now I wish I had put an expiration date on that directive, because two weeks later he still won't let me leave his sight.
This incident has touched off a whole new round of separation anxiety that he hasn't felt since he was a tiny toddler. Toby now refuses to attend his Sunday School class and he pouts at being left in the nursery. He is upset and nervous if he suddenly can't see me in the house, and melts in fear if I should leave him with Matt to go shopping. On Matt's last day off I left for less than two hours for a doctor's appointment. Toby was so insecure that he sat on a folding chair beside Matt in Matt's office almost the entire time, including when he should have gotten up to use the bathroom. Matt was less than thrilled with the puddle under his pouting son.
Toby's fear of losing me is gradually diminishing, but he was worried again last night when I told him that I wouldn't be home when he woke in the morning. I needed to leave at 6:00am to go for a fasting gestational diabetes screening, and a family friend whom Toby knows well would be here when the kids woke up. "Toby, I have to go to the doctor in the morning, but I will come home again for lunch," I said cheerily, then reassured him again, "Mommy always comes home."
His lower lip snuck out a little, but I didn't realize how upset he was until he woke crying at 3:00am this morning. When I went in to console him, his hand reached out and caught mine in the dark. "Mommy," he whimpered, "make sure you don't go to the doctor."
I laughed a little and gave him an extra-tight hug. "Toby, I'm going to bed right now. You will be fine, I promise." And, I believe to his surprise, he was fine this morning while I was away.
With the last few months of pregnancy closing in, it's time for Toby to stretch his wings again, but it also reminds me that the extra few snuggles of the past two weeks may not ever come again. Maybe one or two more days of clinging to Mommy would be alright.