Elton John is wrong. Sorry is so not the hardest bloody word. Look: I kick your shins – ‘oops, sorry.’ I bump into you with my shopping trolley – ‘sorry, didn’t see you there.’ I accidentally drop your hamster down the drain – ‘oh, clumsy me, I am sorry’. See. Easy. But goodbye? That’s the hard one.
Saying goodbye to E as I leave him in nursery can be tough. Since moving up to the pre-school class, involving a literal move up the stairs to the room on the first floor, the breezy goodbye I used to toss into the toddler room as I cantered to the car is a thing of distant beauty. These days, it is a Russian roulette of a farewell: will it be wobbly bottom lip, a white-knuckle grip on my collar or a cheery wave?
E is in that ‘settling in’ period, where he is still acclimatising to being a very small fish in a loud, big, turbulent pond, a pond full of bigger, more confident fish, sorry, kids, most of whom have better control over their opposable thumbs, their bladder and know more words for ‘willy’. So the morning drop-off can be a little emotional for him.
The carers have a strategy for kids who struggle to say goodbye to mummy or daddy. I find it a slightly curious strategy, as it seems to involve prolonging the agony for as long as is humanly possible. They take the child to the large, first floor window and wait for the parent to appear in the car park, at which point said parent must stand under the window, wave a long, final goodbye and leave.
For the first week or so, I did this with a heavy heart and an ever-increasing sense of ludicrousness. A heavy heart, as it was sad to see my little boy pressed up against the window, his short, sobbing breaths repeatedly creating momentary circles of mist on the window as he forlornly looked down at mummy, who was clearly abandoning him. Ludicrous, as I had utterly sworn to myself that I would not be one of those frankly moronic parents who wave up at the window like they’ve just got off a Sunshine Coach – and yet there I was, waving like a buffoon and feeling like shit for leaving E. Bad, bad mother.
But a couple of weeks in, I thought that if I had to partake of this ridiculous charade and watch E miserably waving goodbye to me, perhaps I should make more of an attempt to elicit a smile from him before I leave. This may have been a thought born of enlightened self-interest, as leaving him happy gave me less indigestion after my breakfast. But there are limits to what you can do when you are separated by double glazing ten foot above ground level. The fallback tickle is redundant, the upside-down swing no good. So I do what any self-respecting adult would do. I put my outstretched hands either side of my head to create comedy antlers, stick out my tongue and give it a them all a good old waggle. Bingo. A smile. A small part of my dignity shrivelled up into a ball inside me and withered into dust at the precise moment my tongue came out, but hey, I left E with a smile.
And like everything you do as a parent in a moment of desperation and idiocy, it then becomes expected. E would wait with anticipation at the window for me to make an utter tit of myself. Sometimes other kids would look on, then glance at E as if to say ‘holy shit, you poor buggar, is that your mummy?’
I then confess to M that I am doing the ‘Antler Adieu’ and he reciprocates with a confession that involves him doing a comedy ‘trip up’ outside the window to elicit a laugh from our son. I feel momentarily relieved as that seems marginally more idiotic than my farewell, then doubly worried that both of us might need to see a shrink.
I decide that perhaps I should try and wean E off of my farewell with antlers, due to the law of diminishing returns that states that it becomes a little less entertaining for him every time he sees it, which is inversely proportionate to the shame and humiliation that grows within me when I am doing it. Because whilst leaving my child in someone else’s care all day sometimes makes me feel like a bad mother, let’s face it, I’d be a much worse mother if I had to look after him myself. There are only so many incidents of Play Doh in my hair and stroppy insistences of him sitting down on the zebra crossing before one of us would be locked in the shed. As it is, he gets to play with his friends all day and I get the comparatively easy job of working for a living. He gets professional care, a lesson in socialisation and fun and I get to keep my sanity. It’s a fair exchange.
I come out of nursery one morning and there, in the spot under the window, is a mum. I watch her saying goodbye to her daughter. She is actually dancing. Clad in a pale pink cagoule, legs kicking, arms swinging, she looks like a pantomime orang-utan with ants up her arse. It is at this precise moment that I make a promise to myself… and the Antler Adieu is never, ever seen again.