When my daughter was 12 weeks old, I dropped her off at her new home daycare.
It was not the calmest of days. My grandfather’s shiva was concluding, my husband and I had flown back from our impromptu trip to Canada on the first flight of the morning, he was returning to work at the end of his paternity leave, and I was returning to work (late) after President’s day vacation. My entire family had some horrible flu-like bug we think we picked up at the hospice and my blissful 12-week-old was the only one not hurling.
In the midst of the chaos of my barely-recognizable life was Simmin, a no-nonsense secular Iranian who was going to be in charge on a daily basis of making sure my daughter returned to me in one piece. I was frazzled that day (and many subsequent days) and she made sure to remind me that my daughter’s bottles needed nipples before I dashed off to work. Of course, I made it about three hours before I had to go home sick, but when I was in agony, puking in the bathroom, I didn’t have to worry about my newborn. She was in good hands.
For two and a half years, Simmin was our constant. She spent more waking hours with our child than we did. She cut our infant’s nails, kept careful records of milestones (rolling over, new foods, new words, and new misbehaviors…), and corrected us gently when our child’s clothing was not practical or weather-appropriate. When we had no idea what we were doing, Simmin had no shortage of opinions. Other parents might have objected to her bossy style, but as newbies, we threw ourselves on her mercy. We trusted her completely, and she made sure our daughter ate her vegetables.
Every working mom has tales of the time their child thought the nanny was their mommy, but I didn’t take it personally when R asked to go back to daycare five minutes after daycare ended every day for six months. I just knew she was as happy as she could possibly be. Every now and then I was floored when I discovered my daughter knew a word I thought was beyond her. Her “yes, please” and “no, thank you” mainly came from daycare. When she brought me a book and said, “Ima, are you available to read this?” or advised me that something was not kosher, I would exclaim, “Who taught you that word?” Of course, I knew the answer.
It’s been two and a half years, and it’s time for my daughter to head off to preschool. Someone else will need to make sure she eats her vegetables. Someone else will teach her Hebrew and brachot (blessings). But no one will ever be a surrogate parent for as long as Simmin was. No one will have the same role, and I find myself at a loss as to how to honor this relationship properly.
At first, I considered a card. Then I considered a gift. As the day that she will leave our lives nears, though, neither of those seems enough to properly thank this woman for caring for our child as if she were her own.
It was a transactional relationship, of course. I paid Simmin. I brought her a check every month, but that does not diminish the outsized role she played in my daughter’s life with her love. Somehow, a card–even a personalized one from Treat–would not do that relationship justice.
I’m not a crier, and my daughter won’t understand what’s happening when we say goodbye for the last time. So I imagine it will be a day like any other. My daughter will greet me at Simmin’s door, brandishing her artwork, and she’ll tell me what they did today. I’ll ask Simmin whether R behaved and how many times she pooped. R will demand to go to the park, say a quick “Bye, bye, Simmin, thank you!” and then run and give Simmin a hug. I’ll probably give Simmin a card, or a gift, or a card and a gift if I’m struck by the right mood. But the hug will say everything. Our gratitude will be summed up by the way she has earned the love and devotion of my sometimes terrible toddler. And since nothing we can do could ever possibly be enough to adequately thank her, we’ll have to go with that; the hug of a toddler, freely given, is the purest possible expression of our unsurpassed thanks.