On Monday, I had the most disquieting experience of not being able to get to my child.
A little more than an hour before I was to pick up The Boy at school, I received one of those insanely frightening emergency line calls from his school. You know the ones; they are prerecorded and a computer calls all the parents and emergency contact numbers at once so all the mommies and daddies can panic at the same time.
This one began with, “This is Lesley (not her real name) at Your Kid’s School (again, not the real name of his school). Our students and staff are fine, but there was an accident in the town center and we lost electricity to the school. We are canceling all afternoon activities, and car pool will begin at the normal time for kindergarteners.” She then proceeded to inform all parents of the 200 or so students at the school that three out of the four roads regularly used to access school property would be closed until further notice. The only road remaining open is a major thoroughfare that is crowded during non-peak traffic hours, and in the case of many parents, means at least 15-20 minutes extra driving just to reach a road to access it.
We live only four and a half miles from the school, but I left my house immediately because I knew there would be a traffic backup and I didn’t want to be late. I figured my son would be a little freaked out, and I didn’t want him to think I’d abandoned him by being late. After driving five miles out of the way, I was doing fine and reached the access road thirty minutes before I was to pick him up. Feeling pretty good, I didn’t mind inching along the last tenth of a mile. I could see the street sign for the road on which the school sits, and I had my radio tuned to my favorite classical station.
I sat, and the minutes ticked by. Thirty minutes to spare became twenty. Then ten. I looked around for a place to park my car, figuring I could walk to get him. There was nowhere. My heart began to race. Despite knowing they couldn’t hear me, I started talking to the cars and police in front of me.
“Come on! I’ve got pick up my baby!” I realize he’s five, nearly six, but still he’s my baby. Always will be my baby. I’m sure I looked like a madwoman to the woman in the giant Mercedes SUV behind me who was so calmly chatting away on her cell phone. Each time the car in front of me inched forward, I pulled a little more to the right, just waiting for the moment when I could take the turn. I gesticulated wildly in my mounting panic.
What was wrong with the police? They had to know that there were children waiting to be picked up, and for them to stop traffic on the only access road was simply irresponsible.
Ten minutes became five, then in an instant it was time to pick him up, and I could not reach him. I could not call anyone as his teachers would be out on the car pool path with him and his classmates.
I knew he was fine and safe in the care of his wonderful teachers and the amazing staff at the school, but my emotions squelched all reason and I became frantic. All I wanted was to see him, to touch him, to hold him, but I could not reach my child.
Fifteen long minutes later, I squeezed past the car in front of me and onto the school road. I parked in the school driveway and ran up to the group of children. One of The Boy’s teachers saw me and brought him over.
“Are you okay?” she asked me. I told her yes, I was fine; I was just worried.
“You never need to worry that he’s not safe. He’s okay, and everyone is late today. It’s okay.”
I thanked her and leaned down to give my baby a kiss on the head. I took his proffered hand, and school bag, then listened to him tell me all about the accident that had knocked out power. I tried to act nonchalantly, not grasping his hand as though it were a lifeline in an ocean of panic. I tried to be the grownup, but I lost the battle when, as he climbed up into his booster seat, he paused and reached out, putting his arms around my neck.
I squeezed him tightly, kissed his face and told him I loved him. “Mum! You’re squeezing too tight!”
“Sorry, munchkin. I was just worried when I couldn’t get here on time. I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you.”
“I know you didn’t forget me. The teachers told us our parents would be late, so we got to play extra.”
He beamed at me, his perfect little face split open with a smile.
I know that my child was never in any danger, and I know the panic I felt was unfounded, but what that day gave me is perspective. Although the days can be tough when he’s irritable or cranky, I need to remember THAT feeling, the moment of absolute bliss and how all the tension released from my body when he threw his arms around my neck and hugged me. I need to remember how arbitrary life is and that anything can happen, so I must savor every moment.
And oh yeah, it’s taught me that sometimes I might need to get out the bicycle and just get to it if I need to get to my boy.