I went back to work part time when Ingrid was six months old, and I spent a good part of my maternity leave racking my soul about the question of child care. Who could I trust with her? How could I turn the divine work of caring for her into a commodity, something I could pay someone—a stranger—to do?
I thought an in-home day care would be the best option. Less commercial. More like a family. I must have made a hundred phone calls that summer. Part-time openings for infants, it turns out, are in very short supply here. The handful of providers I found with available spots seemed to have fatal flaws. Large screen TVs blaring in the living room, for example. Or a home saturated with not only the smell but also the gritty, dry feel of cigarette smoke. Or a voice that just seemed too loud.
And then we got lucky.
Through a connection with one of A's coworkers, we met D. She had a part-time nanny job and could come to our house two days each week. This coworker recommended her highly. And she wanted to charge us embarrassingly little. So little that we could actually afford to hire her.
We did, and she fell in love with Ingrid, and vice versa. I am smitten, she said to me after a couple of days of taking care of our little girl. Each time D came to the door, Ingrid made her joyful, half-choked squeal. It was like having a celebrity come to visit twice a week.
It's sort of been a dream come true. A relationship that I feared—paying someone to do what I felt only I could or should do—has turned out to be a big, beautiful bonus for all of us. A and I have been able to know our baby is getting some of the best love around, and Ingrid has another stable, energetic, adoring grown-up in her life. She's learned so much from D. I've learned from her.
I've been on maternity leave since Iris was born, and we've still been having D come two or three mornings per week to play with Ingrid. And in the midst of this time of two and a half year old new big sister turmoil, when she's whining and clinging and crying every hour she's with me, with D, she is her normal, relaxed, chatty, undramatic self. I have many reasons to be grateful for the extra pair of hands in the house; one is that it's a relief to know that the non-tantruming Ingrid still exists. While our family is stretched and changing and in disarray, D and Ingrid have a constant, special friendship.
But now D is moving on to other things. Understandable—she's got an artistic career to get moving on and a lot to offer the world beyond ring around the rosy and the itsy bitsy spider. But it drags us out of paradise a little bit. For all the family-like affection we all have for each other, we're now having to do something that family members don't, except in the worst of cases, do: say goodbye. We'll see her again. But she's been a regular, rhythmic part of Ingrid's life since she was six months old, and that won't ever be the same.
Today is D's last day—last regular, ordinary day—with our family. The past few times I've seen her we've briefly brought up the upcoming ending and then shrunk away from really talking about it. I know she is as sad as I am. I don't know how I can ever really tell her how grateful I am, or how much we'll all miss her.