Diamond’s Bayside Daycare, said the sign, newly erected on the manicured turf at the edge of the concrete driveway. The house was a lowset, light brown brick, with the usual double garage door to one side. The suburb was one of those newer developments, with narrow streets and traffic calming twists and turns and inconvenient islands. It had been Deborah’s and her sons’ cosy retreat from the world. Her sons were near completing matriculation. Now she had opened it up to another generation of kids. She had become a private day carer. She had set up this business from scratch, refurbishing her garage to be the play and activity room and all the back yard to be an enclosed adventure land. The official accreditation, administration and formal education requirements had been completed diligently. The centre was registered with a group coordinator and most of her clients were expected to come through her. She was now ready for the children, but not for the modern parents.
Deborah had pretty much raised her own young men in this home. It was still their nest even though they were well on the way to being adult. She had always been hard working and had raised her boys by herself. She had had many varied experiences in her life and wore them well. Now in her fifties, she was a striking woman. Still beautiful, she was proud to show herself off. Black and pink were her preferred colours. Tight jeans accentuated the youthfulness and slimness of her figure. Boots, knee or ankle, were worn with the associated raunchiness. Deborah was proud of herself and her possessions, and she was fiercely independent. Men and those women who knew her, saw her as formidable. Men were attracted by her strength.
Children had always been first and foremost in Deborah’s life. She was naturally nurturing and had revelled in being a mum. All children loved her gentleness, warmth, surprises and attention. She just loved them unconditionally. Though firm with them, by setting definite boundaries, she set them free to be themselves. ‘Helicopter’ would never be a derogatory term thrown at her. She watched without being obvious, and expected all within her compass to let her know quietly where everyone was, whenever she asked. The kids always knew she was watching. Not only did they thus feel secure, but they also grew with a feeling of independence. None ever felt neglected or stifled. Deborah knew instinctively and from experience, the needs of children and identified those in each child.
Day care suited her and she was good at it. The only problems were those she encountered with some inconsiderate parents. Although Deborah did not mind paperwork, she resented the requirements to report to the parents the details, with both photos and written explanations, of the daily events, their impacts on and probable future lessons to be learned by, each child. This was a government requirement and to her seemed to be an attempt, not of exerting proper control over the carer, but of transforming parenting into a virtual experience, using remote control.
Several experiences accentuated this feeling and led Deborah to instigate parent-vetting procedures. She would often laugh with other carers and friends as they discussed the possibility of her procedures developing into a legal, formal vetting procedure for parenthood. She was only half jesting.
Then, one day, Deborah agreed, against her vetting instincts– as the mother had failed on every account – to take on a delightful little girl. Deborah and Sarah had taken to each other instantly. That was unusual for Deborah. She normally held herself aloof until the child had started to settle in. But Sarah had a haunted look and immediately came to Deborah. They had cuddled and Deborah felt Sarah belonged.
Sandy was a profession and a single mum. The father was an ‘international something’, Sandy had said with a laugh, ‘and a rare visitor in our lives, but he pays.’
‘What hours will Sarah be here?’ Deborah asked.
‘I start work at eight, so sevenish; and I finish about five, so sixish.’
‘Ish is not how we work, Sandy. I have other children, pickups and drop offs. We need certainty.’
‘Ok. 7a.m. and 6p.m. – 11 hours. Monday toThursday.’
‘Fine. My charge, plus overtime, is $360, payable on invoice by direct debit. I email invoices Saturdays and I expect direct debit payment by the following Tuesday.’
‘Great. I have a good income. I work in the Family Courts mostly. I’m a barrister.’
‘You’ve read and signed a copy of the rules from the coordinator’s office?’
‘Yes and they are fine. So, we are good to go?’
’Yep, just drop Sarah off on Monday morning. ‘
Over time, as Deborah had expected, Sandy broke all the rules. Late and early drop offs and pickup’s, meant she had to work more than 14 hours a day. These tired her and caused resentment. These extra hours would cause her hourly rate to become as low as $8 per hour for overtime. But what irked Deborah most were the late payments. The Government subsidy always came on time but only after the parent had paid. Sandy’s contribution was always weeks late. This regime was a bureaucrat’s measure to ensure against fraud. It only ever adversely affected Deborah. The parents were never affected by late or non-payment.
One day Deborah confronted her.
‘Sandy, I’m having trouble with your payments.’
‘How so, Deborah?’ She appeared flippant.
‘This is serious. My business runs on cash flow. I don’t have a guaranteed weekly pay.’
‘I’m a single mum, and I sometimes struggle,’ Sandy pleaded.
‘Of one,’ Deborah said, and then continued, ‘I’m a single mum of two and don’t get any help from their father. I really need to be paid on time.’
Sandy was taken aback not with the demand, but with Deborah’s determination.
‘I’ll bring it right up to date, Tuesday.’
‘Tomorrow is Tuesday, Sandy.’ Deborah was annoyed and she let it show.
That time, Sandy paid up to date, but within a few weeks she had fallen behind again.
Then she started turning up late both morning and night. Some days, Sarah would arrive without having had breakfast and sometimes in unkempt clothes or her pyjamas. She sometimes had not even had her hair brushed.
Then it happened. Deborah was helping the kids paint cardboard boxes in the play room one morning.
‘My mummy doesn’t want me anymore.’
‘Sarah, come here for a cuddle.’ Deborah took the three year old in her arms. Shocked, Deborah was oblivious to the paint brushes each held. Both Sarah and she became splattered in bright red paint.
‘Nah, nah, nah, nah, naah Sarah’s mum doesn’t love her!’ Neil, the four year old bully, teased.
‘Neil, we don’t tease each other here.’
‘But my brothers can at home.’
‘They do it to hurt you, and you don’t like it, do you Neil?’
‘No, I don’t! The boy angrily stomped his feet.
‘We’re gentle here, Neil.’
With outstretched arms, he came to Deborah.
‘You two play together, now.’ She put Sarah and Neil down together on the floor among some blocks and toys.
Deborah was rocked. These were the children of professionals, and this was not what she had ever expected. Her background was with working people. She had never encountered this in her life. She spent the day mulling over what to do. She decided; a gentle confrontation with parents would be best. She thought she had enough experience and knowledge of them to handle the situation adequately and professionally.
‘How are you, Diamond Deborah?’ Terry, Neil’s dad had arrived and was teasing her in reference to her penchant for diamond jewellery. It was a private thing between Deborah, Terry and his wife, Sue. Both had remarked on Deborah’s ‘trinkets’ during Deborah’s vetting procedure. Deborah loved the attention and it had won her heart and secured Neil’s care.
Terry had arrived a little earlier than usual. Deborah was thankful. She had not wanted Sarah’s mum and Neil’s parents arriving at the same time.
‘Good, Terry. Where’s Sue?’
‘She’s taking the older boys to the school swimming carnival at Chandler.’
‘You’ve both finished early, then?’
‘No, we’re out ‘making sales calls’. He winked. ‘How’s Neil? I haven’t kept up with your reports.’
‘Hummm you know, I think they’re a waste of time.’
‘Because I don’t read them?’
‘No, because you know you can’t experience your child’s development by reading about it,’ Deborah said, then added, ‘But I’m not supposed to say anything.’
‘Deb, why aren’t you supposed to say?’
‘The Day care Coordinator said it was in the legislation. I’d be fined and she’d have to take work from me if the parents complained.’
‘You‘re an ‘old’ mum Deb,’ Terry touched her arm, ‘and I think you’re right. Sue and I can forget we’re parents first, before anything else. Thanks for the reminder. Has Neil been behaving?’
‘We need to have a quick word.’ Deborah led Terry out of earshot of her charges.
‘What’s up, Deb?’
‘Neil can be angry and sometimes he bullies. It’s not a problem. He stops when I ask him to be gentle.’
‘I’ve seen the anger. He was a gentle little kid. He seems to have lost that. Any ideas, Deb?’
‘I knew you wouldn’t be upset.’
They smiled at each other.
‘Neil did say his brothers teased him.’
Terry said quickly, ‘Yeah they did – about his gentleness. So he’shidden it by bullying.’
As she saw him tense, Deborah touched Terry’s shoulder.
‘And the suppression would lead to anger,’ Terry added quietly.
‘Come on Neil, come and get a cuddle,’ Terry called.
Neil looked up in surprise and ran to his dad. He had expected to be told to come and get in the car. Just then Sandy pulled up in her black, soft-top Saab sports car. Terry and Deborah parted.
Sandy approached her in the driveway. She seemed a little distracted to Deborah.
‘Deborah, I haven’t your reports on Sarah’s development. I pay and I think I’m entitled to them.’
Deborah thought, Government pays and I really don’t think the subsidy’s intended for people on your salary, but she said, ‘You rarely pay on time, Sandy. The Day care Coordinator gets the reports, as the rules say.’
Sandy ignored Deborah’s response.’How was Sarah today?’
‘We need to have a quick word.’
‘Can’t it wait? I’ve had a difficult day at the courts. I’m already late and I’m supposed to be cooking dinner for my new boyfriend.’
Deborah said softly, ‘Really?’
‘Yes, really,’ said Sandy as she opened the car door, ‘Come on, hurry up Sarah, get in.’
‘I want to stay with Deb!’ Sarah clung to Deborah’s leg.
Deborah’s heart broke.