A little girl with chestnut brown hair and misty, blue lagoon eyes is staring at a door, which, to her developing mind is more of an entrance than an exit. Big people put little people here and forget about them for weeks, months, often years at a time. Alice in Daycareland. Monday through Friday, sometimes Saturday, down the rabbit hole, plunged into a strange place with locked doors, a labeled bottle and tears—a flood of tears—as parents rush away, always late for a very important date. These are her first memories.
A clock, meaningless to children her age moves to snack time. Then to story time. A trace of chocolate milk and cookie crumbs stick to silent, unanimated lips as she finally falls asleep on the napping mat. Clutching a pink blanket that smells like home, she anticipates the first parental touch of the day, so fast, so fleeting, faintly perfumed, when her tired, distracted mother tucks her in at night, the highlight of each and every day.
With the tiniest of snores—sounding more like a click—she enters a dream state. Her father, who drives a horse and carriage resembling a pickup truck, enters the daycare and selects her (her!) out of all the other children. He sweeps her into his strong arms. Her feet leave the ground. He squeezes her tight. She cuddles deep into the leather collar and warmth of his neck—inhales a unique blend of smoke, earth, and aftershave—hints from his magical, unseen world she knows nothing about. He holds her for a long time, tells her he loves her. She sighs. Heart movement combines with rapid eye movement, a visceral vision made real in her mind.
If only her parents could see her. Right now. So cute. Alone in the midst of other baby boys and girls. Dreaming. On the napping mat. On the cartoon carpet. She seems so happy.
Until she awakes. A boy is crying. His head seems too big for his little body. His face is wet and red. His nose glistens with snot. “Hi, my name is Bobby!” according to the sticker on his shirt, written with a bright blue marker, because big people often forget. Alice looks down at her own. She traces each letter with tiny fingers. A-L-I-C-E.
If Alice or Bobby could tell time, they would know there’s still six more hours to go. That’s when the children disappear one-by-one as another day comes to a close.
Alice’s parents work hard for the big house in which nobody lives. They will separate. They will divorce. They will sign a paper and walk away as two cold strangers, pulling Alice in opposite directions, splitting her world and heart in two.
If babies could speak. Better than a mansion of bricks is a house made of sticks, a home where love is found, with arms wrapped all around. No empty seats. Happily, ever after.