Saying Goodbye

Attachment has been on my mind a lot recently. Maybe it’s because I just completed my first grad school paper on sociocultural challenges to the dyadic attachment framework. Maybe because it’s the beginning of the school year, when young children have to start to attach to a new teacher and new peers. And maybe my interest in attachment stems from the fact that I, too, am trying to navigate new friendships and supports.

Anyone who has worked with young children can tell you how tough morning drop-off can be, particularly at the beginning of the year. Many young children are reluctant to come to school, and even more resistant to have their caregiver leave them at this new, unfamiliar place. They feel completely comfortable with their current routines and relationships at home. They see absolutely no reason to abandon those whom they deeply love. Yet, it’s not a choice. For reasons that they cannot fully understand, they have to say goodbye to the world they love and start new routines and relationships. Many young children have simply not had enough life experience to fully know that their loved ones will return. Every morning’s goodbye is done with a lot of grief and some blind faith. It’s incredibly hard work.

I watch the drop-off of one of my three year olds. He comes in with his Dad. He puts his coat and bag away, then starts to play with his friends. But, he is always looking out the corner of his eye to make sure his Dad is still there. Eventually, it’s time for his Dad to say goodbye. He resists verbally and physically, grabbing his Dad’s leg as he yells “No!” As his Dad leaves, there are sometimes tears, and a teacher comes to comfort him.

I look at the tears in his eyes, and I completely get it. Two months ago, I was perfectly content with my current routines and relationships. I was in love with everything in my life, and felt no need for anything different. Yet, I knew something was calling me away from these attachments to pursue further life experiences. So I moved 700 miles away, leaving behind my work, my friends, and my life. I have had my own ways of trying to hold onto those beloved attachments, to return to what was safe and warm. And, I have also had my fair share of tears, when I realize that my loved ones really are gone.

But, here’s the amazing thing. The child eventually blinks away his tears, hops off the teacher’s lap, and joins his peers in their play. Within minutes, he is engaged in an activity. He spends the rest of the day playing with people he hasn’t known for more than a few months. Slowly, he is falling in love with this group of people.

It’s not always easy. Sometimes, he will intentionally use aggressive behaviors, or cause a disturbance to disrupt the play of a peer. I wonder if he’s saying, “I’m mad that I have to be away from the people I love the most.” When he is hurt, tired, or hungry, he will call out for the one that makes him feel secure when he is vulnerable. Over time, I expect that these emotional outbursts will diminish in frequency and he will start to see this community as one full of love and security.

But for now, the best I can do is hug him for as long as he needs, and tell him, “I know how you feel. It’s all going to be OK. I love you.”

Little does he realize that he is slowly repaying the favor.

-“‘If you become a bird and fly away from me,’ said his mother, ‘I will become the tree that you come home to.'”- The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown