Dawn stayed home with us so it was a family day. We started the day with a couple appointments, two childcare facilities in the neighborhood. The first place is on the ground level of a large apartment complex. The second is a large renovated home on a residential block. When we parked at the first site, we walked by a car where a woman was smoking. I remember telling Dawn that that woman shouldn’t be smoking in the with the kid sitting there. I sounded like somebody irritated. But even though it was early, on a Monday, I wasn’t irritated. Not yet.
The highlights to the first place—a place I’d seen already—was that the director was late. She didn’t ordinarily schedule appointments on Mondays, a staff person explained as we waited, excusing our feet while parents and small people walked through the entrance. “Maybe she didn’t know.” The lady was nice when she said it. I was giving that look I give so that everyone walking by would know that something was wrong or that somebody had done something stupid or that something stank. I replied that the director had made the appointment herself, wanting also to say that that would have made it difficult for her not to know. I kept that part to myself.
The smoking woman from the car came in, and I saw the same apron the other staff people wore. I thought about that kid in the car, the one smoking with the lady in front of me. I thought about how much I hate smoke. I thought about that time when my aunt made me hug her while she was smoking. I was six or seven. I was already having to wait. Now I had to see a smoker as a potential childcare giver to my kid who didn’t like smoke either if I could say anything about it.
When the director rushed through the doors, she greeted us and started into an explanation that really wasn’t an explanation. She said something about her having had a long weekend, about her being a grad student in addition to the center we were in. I found myself thinking, “so what?” She dipped into her office. I heard her talking to a couple people. She came out, and, as she stepped in front of us, another parent was dropping off a child. The director spoke to the parent and asked about some form, asking if the parent had brought it. Then she invited the parent into the office without excusing herself from the couple who had been waiting for more than ten minutes on the director who makes appointments but doesn’t keep them. Kids were singing in the background. They sounded happy.
She came and said hello to us. She shook our hands. She knelt down to address Bryce, asking his name. She asked him again. He didn’t say anything. I answered. I heard her say something about us wanting him to say it. That little voice in my head told me to respond that us wanted her to be on time.
I’m usually a patient person. I’m a pastor. So I’m supposed to be. But there’s a little man in my head when it comes to situations like we were in. That man hates to wait when he’s the customer. When he’s on the receiving end of service—and this is the man who is a servant—he hates to be treated so informally and carelessly. It’s related to how he does his service, hopefully, never so carelessly. She had apologized. But I found it hard to be gracious when the apology coming from the woman was so frail.
We were pressed up against a second appointment, so Dawn walked through the relevant spaces with the director. Questions were raised. The director indicated that I was already on the wait list. She had put me on it. That was kind of her. I hadn’t known that, but it didn’t matter as much for some reason. Well, the reason was called thirteen minutes. She was thirteen minutes late and each minute was a reason I was closing the internal door on the place as an option for my son. I told myself that all the little details matter when you’re deciding where your kid will spend hours and hours. Cleanliness and safety and my kid’s reaction and the staff and the food and the hairs on my neck and my interior feelings and, of course, my wife’s impressions. Outside of the room he’d learn in, play in, or sleep in, and outside of all those other things, there were those minutes. Each one an irritating prick against my tentative appreciation for whatever those kids were singing about.
We left and went the second place. It was a better experience. The director was at the door already. A grandmotherly woman greeted us first. She welcomed Bryce and made me think about greens and cornbread and rocking chairs. The director wore a headset and a blue tooth and he walked to his office while we were talking to the woman at the door. Bryce was taking everything in, as were me and Dawn.
When the director returned, he greeted us and launched into a thorough explanation of things. He talked from philosophy to safety to fun and discipline. All of this after he spent five minutes engaging Bryce who was not having it. The man stayed with Bryce, bending down, until he saw smiles and got a high-five. It felt like a success to all of us. We walked the building, met grandmother volunteers, waved at kids, and tried to keep the boy entertained. He was sneezing and sniffling and wanting to be held.
Two places and I watched my son as he inched toward the noise of little potential friends. He closed doors and opened doors. He met a few staff people. I watched him, calling him back from going in some direction, picking him up when he had that look on his face, the one that communicates worry that we’re going to leave him. He joined a circle of dancing boys and girls in the second facility. It took him a while. The music coaxed him. And he returned when his pants draped around his knees. I shook my head and explained to everyone that my kid had no waist. I pulled up his pants and thought about the day when something like that would really be embarrassing to him.
We came home and put the boy in the bed. He crawled and kicked around, eventually conking out after singing for a while. He went silent. Sometime after that Dawn went in the basement to exercise. I grabbed a novel I’m enjoying. And the house was, for a moment, for a while, unlike those places where we had been. Quiet.