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Darren and kidsWhen my wife, Emily, and I were expecting our first child, I worried about a lot of things. Would I be a good father? What if the baby gets sick? Will we ever sleep again?

But one thing was almost too upsetting to contemplate: child care - or not child care, really, but rather the idea of eventually having to leave our tiny new baby, all day, for at least a few days a week, with strangers.

Emily and I knew that day would come and that it would be impossibly difficult. But what no one told us was how hard it would be to even arrange for care in the first place. With a house in Waterbury and jobs in Burlington, where should we look? As it turned out, we would have had to put our names on the waiting list before our child was even conceived to be certain of a spot in most Burlington centers. So we compromised: we found a place somewhere in the middle.

Like most working parents, after our son Cashel was born, and after maternity leave came to a halt, we had to get creative with our schedules, hope our bosses wouldn't mind incessant and unpredictable absences, and call our families for help.

Despite the overall lack of respect our culture seems to have for the real-world demands of raising children, we were making it work. Kind of. Our jobs were able to accommodate our new and strange hours. Emily's family lives in Vermont and so was able to pitch in. In those respects, we were lucky and we knew it. But it was still a fantastically stressful time, and it wasn't about the lack of sleep or the diaper changes or the commute. We were growing more and more dissatisfied with Cashel's care and we didn't know what we were going to do. We had no plan B. He was unhappy, and so were we.

I mention all of this because I simply did not understand, before I went looking for it, how crucial quality child care is for children, parents, and communities. I never understood, before I was beside myself with worry and dread every day, how much parents' lives are improved when their children have a safe and enriching place to go each morning.

To make this long story mercifully shorter, we finally found The Children’s Early Learning Space. And it was at that very moment that our lives, and Cashel's, started getting better. This space is special. You can feel it when you walk in. We were immediately put at ease by the caring, thoughtful, and engaged teachers, by the enterprising and attentive staff. We knew that we had made the right choice.

There has been some turnover, some changes in leadership since we first found a home away from home here nearly six years ago, but the dedication that The Children’s Early Learning Space displays toward children and families is just as impressive now as it was then. That's why we made sure that our second son, Ryan, would have a place here as well. What an amazing feeling it was to bring him in—squirming and still so small—on his first day and know that he would be happy and cared for.

Child care was one thing, this time around, I didn't have to worry about at all.

(Darren is a regular columnist for the Waterbury Record)