With my eyes fixated on the road, I contemplated the fact that I had just carried my tiny baby into an unfamiliar building and handed her over to strangers.
I had left her there, sleeping, unaware that her mama was leaving her. I had wanted to wake her up, but I knew it wasn't wise. Better to kiss her Burt's Bees-scented head and just go.
About 45 minutes later, she would awaken to the face of a perky caretaker cooing sweet sounds to her.
Meanwhile, her mama would be at her first day of work, clumsily pumping milk between meetings in the company "quiet room," tears brimming in her eyes as she tried to focus on her Real Simple magazine and remind herself she wanted to be there.
I had been looking forward to working again. But I loved my sweet, easygoing, happy baby Annie with all my heart, and I ached to leave her at daycare.
The staff at the bright, sun-filled, happy place where I left Annie that difficult day -- and many, many days afterwards -- understood this ache. They knew what I was going through. And they helped me through it, through that pain and the many more pains I felt over the years they cared for first Annie, and then Gracie, too.
Now I'm feeling a new kind of ache, because it's suddenly time to say goodbye to this wonderful place and begin a new chapter of our lives.
As of next week, Gracie is going to our town's integrated preschool program, which is housed at the local elementary school. No more daycare center laden with the distinct perfume of babies, diapers and Cheerios. She's off to the land of backpacks and water fountains and big-kid bathrooms. Playgrounds without toddler slides and long hallways that lead to wondrous places like Music and Art and Gym.
Yes, I am absolutely ecstatic that they added a spot for Gracie in this amazing Pre-K program. It's exactly what Hubs and I wanted for her. She will love it and she will thrive.
But I am also feeling real, true sadness about leaving our daycare center. I thought it wouldn't be too big of a deal when this day came. But the constant lump in my throat since I realized we were leaving tells me that it is a Very Big Deal, indeed.
I am particularly dreading saying goodbye to Miss Sarah, who got Gracie and me through a terrible time when she wouldn't wear clothes. You read that right: She wouldn't wear clothes.
For weeks, I brought 3-year-old Gracie to school wrapped in a blanket in the dead of winter, and handed her over to Miss Sarah as I fought back tears and guilt about my total inadequacy as a parent.
Miss Sarah not only helped Gracie get through this horrible sensory stage, she helped get me through a very low point of my own. And because of this, she will hold a legendary place in our family history as we tell tales over the years to come, tales of Gracie's difficult days and the grandmotherly teacher who saved us all.
Stellar daycare centers hold a special place in the hearts of working moms. They serve as a support system for us when we need them, providing advice and assuring us we are not failing at this parenting thing.
The staff don't just watch our kids while we work. They assist us in nurturing our kids, and in helping them grow socially and academically.
And ultimately, through their loving care of our children, they help us be comfortable with the fact that we are working and not able to be with our precious babies all day, every day.
This is why this goodbye is so difficult. Because our daycare center is one of these gems.
I know on Thursday, when I leave the daycare center for the last time, I will be sobbing. I will be saying goodbye to some people who helped shape my sweet girls into the people they are today, and enabled me to be confident in my decision to be a working mom. And even more poignantly, I will be saying goodbye to The Baby Chapter of my girls' lives.
Hand in hand with both Annie and Gracie, I will walk out of there, ready for the next chapter -- but yet so very sad to turn the page on this last great one.