From the back of the car, I heard laughter.
I glanced up and saw the reflection of my daughter, the edges of her mouth curled upwards, her hands clasped together in delight. As her delicious giggle filled my ears, I discovered that it was infectious as my own face relaxed into a broad grin.
Because I realised what was making my daughter react with such delight: it was clearly the memory, the recollection of her day. Her day which had been spent at nursery.
And in that moment, it struck me: I had gone looking for childcare and found so much more.
Before my little girl was born, we had decided that at some point, we would need to access childcare. So, even before she had made her entrance to the world, I had reserved a place for her at a nursery with a great reputation, a year in advance.
Which was fine, when it was just an abstract concept. But the closer we got to the time when she would have to take that place up, the more my stomach fluttered with anxiety. Even though I was already used to leaving my child to go to work – my husband had taken Shared Parental Leave – this new arrangement filled me with dread. How would they know what to do if she started itching because of her eczema? What if they gave her something for lunch that was too much for her few teeth to handle? What if they…
The settling in sessions went some way to allay my concerns but I still felt a lump swell in my throat that first time I turned my back to leave her. And then the next time. And the time after that. And….
But then gradually, I noticed something was happening. Each time I dropped my little girl off, she seemed a little more relaxed, a little happier, almost excited for her day.
And it wasn’t just her demeanour which was changing. Over the next months, I noticed changes at home. Like how she began to share, offering her daddy or I a bite of her breadstick or a read of her book. Or how she would point to her ‘head’ if we said the word head, amazing and astounding us both with a skill which hadn’t been taught by us. Or, how she would shape her fingers into a diamond at the appropriate moment during ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ something surely picked up during singing time at nursery.
We also watched her form relationships outside of us, not least with her nursery nurse with whom she formed a special bond. But also with her peers, as I saw one afternoon when I watched her playing joyously and noisily with another little tot. ‘She’s got a social life,’ I thought, in awe and with pride.
And she was clearly having fun too, as that giggle in the back of the car showed. Which was indeed, a relief, because I am sure many parents can associate with that sense of worry and guilt which comes from seeking someone else to take care of one’s child. But I didn’t need to carry this burden any longer because my daughter was happy – and what’s more, she was blossoming. The nursery staff weren’t just making sure my child was fed, changed, and looked after, they were also helping her to become the person she will be. And that is something quite wonderful.
Nursery isn’t something that everyone needs or indeed wants to access but if you are planning on sending your child to nursery, there are more benefits than you might imagine. When it comes to choosing where to go, the practicalities are important but so is what you feel in your gut – and how your child responds. We took our daughter for a visit before we confirmed her place and she was calm and engaged and interested – which made our mind up for us.
And now, when I look up and see my daughter laughing to herself on the journey home, I know that we made the right decision for us.