The daycare centre smelled funny. I suppose it was antiseptic, old toys, ancient laminate and a million small bodies. The foyer was unattended but there was a self-check-in system. It was our first day so I wasn’t too concerned that Sienna’s name wasn’t on the print out. I just added it over the page where there were a few blank spaces.
The dirty off-white walls of the foyer area were crying out for some colour. This was nothing like our beautiful home daycare, with its rich warm tones, fluffy throw rugs, handmade wooden toys and etsy artwork. But our home daycare had to close, and this place could take my three-year-old at short notice. A friend who I adore had her children at this place for the last eight years and spoke highly of the carers. I trusted her recommendation.
We passed through the key-coded door. I’d been given the access code when we toured the facility with the manager. There were rows of hooks for bags, and each hook was named. There was no hook for Sienna so I just set her bag down on the floor.
I surveyed the room. A group of little people sat on a mat listening to a small Indian woman reading a story. Behind the group, on a tiny plastic chair sat a younger girl.
“Ah, hi,” I said to younger one.
She looked up but said nothing.
“My name is Yvette and this is Sienna. Today is her first day here.”
“I’m a work experience student. I don’t work here,” she replied in a bored voice.
Okay, I thought.
I stood there feeling awkward for a moment before deciding to interrupt the story teller to repeat what I’d just said.
“Hi, I’m Yvette and this is Sienna. She is new. Today is her first day.”
The woman smiled and said, “oh today is my first day too.”
“Her name is Sienna,” I repeated to no one in particular.
The woman had gone back to reading the story. I stood there feeling like an idiot. Take her home, the little voice in my head whispered.
And then I saw Sienna’s friend. The daughter of the mum who’d given the daycare the thumbs up. She was wiggling away on the mat, her eyes were sparkling and she was grinning right at us. Obviously her mum had primed her for the task of looking after Sienna.
The story ended and her little friend stood up and took Sienna’s hand. Another carer appeared with trays of vegemite toast for breakfast and the girls took a place at the table. I watched on for a moment. There was food so Sienna was happy and distracted. I waved goodbye and left.
I went home to do some housework. I was supposed to be off to work, where I would have been distracted, but Amelia was home from school sick so I thought about Sienna all morning…
I began to feel as though I’d left a bit of my heart in a place where it would be lost and alone all day. I kept thinking of her and wondering if anyone would know her name by the end of the day. I imagined her just roaming through the building, unnoticed. I pictured the daycare on fire, the children evacuated, standing across the road in a huddle. My baby girl, her face streaked with tears, standing alone. A carer with a clip board calling out, “who is this kid? Does anyone know who this kid is?”
I decided I was being silly. I tried to push the thoughts out of my head. I reasoned that she was in a safe place, and would probably be happily painting or making a macaroni necklace.
Imagination settled. Everything was good. Then at about one in the afternoon, the phone rang.
“Hello, this is Yvette.”
“Hi, this is Magnolia, the manager from Happy Days Daycare*”
Aww, I thought. A courtesy call! How nice. I bet ringing to tell me that Sienna is having a great first day. See how silly you are?
“Yvette, I am just calling to ask you why you didn’t bring Sienna in today. We were expecting her.”
She sounded a bit pissed.
I tried to make sense of what she’d just said.
“I did,” I finally said.
“I dropped her off this morning.”
There was a long pause. I imagined Magnolia tipping her head to the ceiling and dropping a silent F bomb.
“Her name wasn’t on the sign in sheet so I added it to the bottom. She is there, right? Today was the day, right? She’s been there since 8:30am. She’s been there all day.” I was rambling.
“Oh yes, I’m sure she is here then. Sorry about that. I’m sure she is fine. Good day.”
She hung up.
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I reached out to my favourite stay-at-home friend, Facebook.
Aaaaargh!!!!!!! The daycare just called to see why we had not shown up today!!! I said, “Sienna is there!” So she has gone unnoticed all day!!! I don’t know how to feel.
My friends wrote back, “go and get her!” and, “time for a new daycare!”
My sister called from Mozambique, “I wish I was there. I just want to go get her and give her a big hug!”
I sat tight. I didn’t go and get her. I waited until the end of the day.
She saw me through the window when I arrived to pick her up. We stood on either side of the glass for a good few minutes and pulled funny faces at each other. When I got inside she was giggling. She threw her arms around me and said, “I missed you all day, Mum.”
But she was happy, and she’d been safe.
The carer on afternoon shift told me they didn’t know her name. Her drink bottle said Cherry so they’d been calling her that all day. When the manager had asked if Sienna had come, they said no; they didn’t get a new kid called Sienna that day, only one called Cherry.
I didn’t pull her out of the daycare. It’s been six months and nothing else shocking or odd has happened. I’ve chalked it up to a hiccup, a bad day. She really enjoys the daycare and I think it has turned out to be as great as my friend said it would be so I’m glad I didn’t storm in there that day and go all mad-cow on dear Magnolia.
*Names changed to protect the identity of the Daycare.