Tuesday, September 24, 2002

I'm five years old and it's just after lunchtime at my daycare, an old church basement in north Edmonton. The main area that we use is a big hall, with junior-sized tables and chairs, easels and toys. There are cupboards along one wall that hold craft supplies, paper, Dr. Seuss books, paint brushes, plastic containers of Tempura paint and other rainy day activity goodies. There are boys and girls' washrooms with shiny, smooth tiles on the floor, running up the wall past where I can reach. Most mornings when I get dropped off, it is still dark out. The drowsiness and the florescent lights combine to make everyone and everything look faded and grayish-blue.

The church has a middle-aged feel to it that makes it a little bit creepy. On nice days, the daycare teacher takes us for morning walks. Mrs. Friedel has a rope that we all have to hang onto when we go anywhere outside of the building. She is a thin, wiry Germanic woman with dark, drawn-back hair and kind words delivered in a firm voice. Years have taught her how to handle young children - polite and direct, gentle reminders to their tasks, a touch on the shoulder before speaking to them to ensure that she has their attention. No backtalk allowed.

The daycare isn't the most expensive in the area. Mom and dad are just struggling to make ends meet these days. The fact that both of them must work means that they had to find a good place for me during the day. So, they bring me here with all the other children of blue collar workers, then they go off to make a living. They have no reason for concern about my welfare in this place.

It's after lunch now and we are getting ready to have afternoon naps. There are exercise mats that double as sleeping pads for us. The mats are brought out of a musty back storage room and placed in neat rows. We are sent to retrieve our blankets from our shelves above our coathooks - this early afternoon siesta is a regular thing. Naptime is as much a break for the caretakers as it is for the children - a forced lull in the non-stop bombardment of sensations of a child's daytime hours.

I'm older than most of the other kids. I don't like naptime now. I find myself awake in the artificial darkness of the empty, echoing hall. As I lay on my mat, my eyes adjust to the reduced reddish light of the emergency exit signs. Beneath the low hum of some unseen florescent ballast, I often hear other kids rustling and moving and I want to whisper to them, but I'm too scared of a stern word should Mrs. Friedel find me awake. I see her silhouette in the corner with reading light, nose buried in a paperback novel. Nap time seems to take forever.

Today, as I am laying on my mat, there's a knock at the double doors that are the entrance to the basement. The children that are still awake hear Mrs. Friedel get up out of her chair. I turn to look at who it could be at the door. The door is opened slightly to contain the incandescence of the foyer. She whispers to someone outside, then quietly closes the door and picks her way though the napping bodies in the dim light and walks over to me.

"Someone's here for you," she whispers, and tells me to go quietly and get my coat from my hook. I come back to the door and find my aunt there. She is waiting in the vestibule with my cousin who is just 4 months older than me.

"I have a surprise for you," my aunt says. That's the last thing I remember before I find myself in another darkened room, this time my eyes wide open, fixed upon a theatre screen. She had come to rescue me from naptime by taking me to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Paramount theatre.

It was an absolutely wonderful treat that I remember to this day.


I tell you this story because today, I had an opportunity to be at the other end of this story.

Banana phoned me to let me know that she couldn't find her lunch in her backpack. I told her that I *may* have put it in her sister's bag. I asked her to check with her sister and call me if it wasn't there. Three minutes later, my mobile phone rings again. It's Banana. Her sister ate both sandwiches.

Hmmm. Silently, I size up the situation, then I tell her to meet me at the front door of the school in 30 minutes.

When I showed up half an hour later with chicken strips, french fries and a chocolate milkshake, the smile I got was worth a whole days' pay. I felt like a real hero.

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