I went to pick my little kids up from preschool one day last week, and when I got there I found my 4-year-old son curled up in a small ball on his caregiver's lap.
The backstory: He and his buddies had been playing (probably superheroes, their current obsession), and playing escalated into rough housing, which escalated into arguing, which escalated into fighting. One friend grabbed a toy out of my boy's hands; another defended the first, and that was just too much for my little guy to bear. He burst into tears -- a common enough occurrence at home, but a rarity at school -- and, since I wasn't there, climbed into his teacher's lap for reassurance.
I got there about half an hour later, and there he was, all cuddled up. And, instead of feeling protective or territorial or jealous, instead of feeling guilty for not being there when it all happened, or angry that his feelings had been hurt, I just felt... grateful.
It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was standing in a stairwell, counting the seconds until he stopped sobbing after I'd dropped him off. Those first weeks were rough (more so on me than on him, to be completely honest), but they happened more than half a lifetime ago, for him, and he doesn't even remember them.
I do, though. And I've braced myself for another round every time he's changed classrooms, but instead he's been all pride and pomp, graduating from one room to another with his gang, taking on new challenges and accepting new privileges with pride. So to see him at the end of the day, emotionally wiped out, was startling. And, frankly, worrisome. But he was calm and relaxed in Miss H's arms. She's raised her own kids, and she gets him and his energy and the way 4-year-old boys can be impossibly big and heart-breakingly little at the same time. And while I was curious about what happened, I was mostly just grateful that he felt comfortable and secure enough to come to her for comfort.
Over at The 36-Hour Day, I hear a lot about the daycare side of the work-out-of-the-home vs. stay-at-home mommy wars. So, working moms worrying about leaving your babies "with strangers" while you're at work, take heart: Choose your caregivers wisely and they don't stay strangers for long.