For #MotherlyStories| One of the hardest things my husband and I have done as parents was to take our newborn son to his daycare for the first time.

We were scared. We felt guilty. After almost 12 weeks of maternity leave, I was happy to return to work and daily adult interaction. But I also felt not quite ready. We were handing our little one off to a woman we barely knew but were desperate to trust. Millions of parents have brought their babies to daycare before us, but that first time we did it ourselves still felt fraught with emotion. Was this the right decision?

Looking back to that time, I know now how lucky we were to be taking our son to this daycare center. Although I empathize with that nervous new mama that I was, I barely recognize her.

And now, as our son starts a public preschool program and says goodbye to his daycare, I am full of gratitude in reflection for all that our caregiver has done for him and for our family.

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Here is our note of thanks – which can never be enough. I hope it inspires others to take the time to share their appreciation.

Dear Karla:

As we sat in too-small chairs for a meeting with Little G’s new preschool teacher for the first time, I couldn’t help but think back to the first time we sat across from you in your living room, more than four years ago. We were anxious then, but it was a different kind of apprehension than now. We didn’t know much about parenthood. We didn’t even know the gender of our own child, let alone anything about feeding or napping schedules or child development. Our collective knowledge could be summed up this way: We knew we were having a child, we knew our due date, we knew we needed full-time care about three months after he or she was born and we knew that finding excellent, affordable care – especially in the bustling metropolis of D.C. – seemed just short of a miracle.

We did research about in-home arrangements, large centers, nanny shares and even talked about the possibility that one of us would stay home with the baby. We put ourselves on multiple waiting lists, for which we spent hundreds of (non-refundable) dollars to try to secure a spot that might never materialize. And then I saw a post on our local parents’ listserv about you. A childcare professional with experience at large centers, you were starting up your own in-home daycare business and looking for families. Even better, you were accepting infants.

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So after a few emails and phone calls, we found ourselves in your living room, feeling almost like children ourselves in the large overstuffed furniture. We interviewed you with a list of questions compiled from so much – too much? – online research. We inspected the space you were creating for the children in the basement. But all the while, the big questions loomed – How would you care for our little one? Would you love our baby? Could we trust you? And was there even a chance that we could get a spot here?

Several months later, the three of us began a journey with you that I can’t believe is already over. Those first few weeks were difficult, as they are for all new parents going back to work. Breastfeeding wasn’t easy for us, so every time we dropped off milk for the day, I prayed it would be enough. My husband and I were both were so exhausted that we feared we’d forget little G in the car by himself. I had started a new job where I was the only person with a young child, constantly aware that others noticed that I left work around 5 p.m. to pick him up (no matter that I arrived several hours before everyone else). And my husband and I both worried about little G all day long – Is he eating? Is he sleeping? Is he safe?

But then we started to notice little things that made a large impact on our lives as working parents. Every day, you sent home a written report of his activities that we delighted in reading. (We have preserved those “report cards” from the first two years in a binder that we cherish leafing through even now.) Somehow, you were able to get Little G on a nap schedule that had him sleeping for one hour in the morning and up to three hours in the afternoon – like clockwork. Even though he was the youngest in your care and couldn’t really participate much at the beginning, you found ways to include him in circle time and all the activities at the center.

More than three years later, our son is a joyful, boisterous (yet well-mannered, thanks to you!) little boy who knows his letters, is happy to share (most of the time) and has formed strong bonds with the other children he has grown up with in your care. At the promotion ceremony you hosted for all the children heading off to “big kid school,” we were so proud to see him – a usually shy child – stand up to deliver a comedy routine by himself in which he told a joke about an elephant in a phone booth to the crowd of parents and friends.

Little G was the first child in New Life Early Education Academy who wasn’t a member of your family, but we never felt like we were just clients. I remember not thinking twice when you asked if he could call you “Auntie” like your nephews did. Your whole family embraced him. You loved him. And we couldn’t have been happier.

We often tell our friends and family – and not all in jest – that all of our son’s positive attributes and development are things you have imparted. So the apprehension that we feel now as he heads to preschool includes the questions, Will they love him like Karla did? Will he grow and learn here like he did at Karla’s?

Thank you for loving our baby. Your influence on him can never be measured. He thrives today – and was definitely “school ready” – because of you. And for that we can never thank you enough.

Amy L. Kovac-Ashley is a visiting assistant professor at the Reed College of Media and managing director for the Media Innovation Center at West Virginia University. She and her husband plan to send their next child – due Nov. 30 – to New Life Early Education Academy, as long as there is a spot available.

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