The child spent at least half an hour outside in the cold, his mother says. The University of Manitoba daycare apparently didn't know he was missing until the couple came to pick him up.
The parents don't want their names used because he's a full-time university student and is afraid there may be repercussions. A daycare employee confirmed the incident.
"We saw that there was a child outside but we thought there was a teacher with him," says the mother. "We didn't know it was (our son) because he looked bigger. When we swung into the parking lot we couldn't see him anymore. We thought he'd gone inside."
The couple went inside and downstairs to claim their child.
All the other children were out of their snowsuits. The dad picked up his son's bag. His wife chatted with one of the daycare workers.
"He's potty training so we talked about that. She was telling me about his day. I finally asked where he was."
The teacher told the mom her son was in the washroom with another teacher.
A few minutes later, she decided to hurry him along.
"I asked the other teacher where he was. She said, 'Oh, he's not in here.' "
About 10 minutes had passed since the parents arrived at the daycare. The worried mother dashed back to the first room and quickly checked to see if her son was inside a play structure. She didn't find him.
Panicking, the couple ran outside.
"He was outside at the top of the stairs. The look on his face was awful. He was cold and he'd been crying."
The little boy had soiled himself, either before the rest of the kids were taken back inside or while he was staring at a locked door, unable to get in.
The father went back into the daycare to collect his son's belongings. He blew up at staff, demanding to know how a small child could go missing.
"There are three teachers and only 11 kids. Why wouldn't someone notice?"
She points out her son was in an open area beside a parking lot. Anyone could have taken him, she says.
"This is not rocket science. They count heads, even in high schools. If 11 go out, 11 should come back in."
The couple, who both work at Health Sciences Centre, only needed daycare two days a week. Now that they've pulled the boy from the daycare, they're relying on family to help look after their son.
She'd love to find another safe and affordable daycare but simply doesn't think there's licensed space available.
"It's been really hard on (her son). It's been hard on all of us. My mom and my mother-in-law couldn't sleep. They couldn't stop thinking about what could have happened."
It's been hardest on the child, who had just celebrated his third birthday.
"I can see a change in him," says his mom.
"He thought they'd locked him outside on purpose. He still won't let me out of his sight."
The daycare sent a notice home to parents saying they'd be changing their roll-call process. That pleases the mom but it doesn't stop her obsession with what might have happened.
"Maybe it's because I'm a first-time mother. What if we hadn't shown up for him at 3:30? What if we'd waited until 5:30 when the daycare closes? He would have been outside for another two hours."
The boy was left outside, cold, wet and miserable for no fewer than 30 minutes, possibly longer.
That was a serious staff mistake, one that is assuredly being addressed.
What that review process involves is unknown since staff declined to discuss the matter.
The mother is left wondering how seriously this incident is being taken.
I'm left wondering why it seems three trained daycare staff members can't count to 11.