We weren’t late, but we weren’t early either and when we turned into the triangular intersection that fronts our elementary school we hit an uncharacteristic traffic jam. Someone – a grandparent or friend – who didn’t know the complex etiquette rules of the non-looping, three street clusterfuck that is the front of our school had parked wrong, bringing one of the sides of the triangle down to one lane and the entire system to a complete standstill.
I usually pull up to the side of the school and drop the kids off with no street to cross to reach their class line. When I turn around to leave, I can catch one last glimpse of them, near the end of their respective lines, lips moving, breath steaming in the cold, or roll down the window and call to Garrett to “move it” as the first bell jangles over my strident voice. If I let them out where I sat trapped in traffic and bailed from the unmoving snarl, they would only have to cross one street and I could get Quinn to school on time.
The sweet, serious sixth-grade crossing guards still manned the crosswalk. I threw the car into park where it was, calling to them to take their buckles off as I slid out the driver’s door and rushed around to the other side. Saige threw herself at the ground, so eager to try this new freedom that she tripped over her snow boots in her hurry to disentangle from my hug and reach the crosswalk. Garrett made it his purpose in life to give me a heart attack with his ability to accomplish the simplest task in the maximum amount of time.
“Garrett, honey, the car’s running. I’m in the middle of the street.” Nothing had moved, I could see in front of us, but the bell rang and the crossing guards were ferrying the last group of kids across to school. “Garrett hurry, the crossing guards will leave. Garrett. Garrett. GARRETT.” He finally reached the door, but without his backpack, and back he went at 0 mph to retrieve it and FINALLY exit the car. I kissed the top of his head and propelled him bodily toward the crosswalk, throwing the Suburban in gear just as the line started to move again.
I turned left out of the triangle and checked on him one last time in the rear view mirror. He stood forlornly on the sidewalk facing the now deserted crosswalk. He had undoubtedly dawdled over some ice that needed breaking with his boot and missed the final crossing. The last hint of neon yellow crossing guard vest disappeared over the hill and into the school building. A steady stream of cars, huge SUVs, and minivans rolled past him with no break.
I swore under my breath. I knew he wouldn’t step into the street, but therein lay the problem. He would not step into that street without someone to tell him it was time to cross. I had to go all the way around the triangle to reach him, there was no way he could hear me. All I could do was watch him through the spindly baby trees that populated the little triangle of grass in the center of the intersection. I was nervous not for his safety but because I knew he was nervous. Remember that feeling of suddenly losing your net of instructive, protective adults and being in charge of a situation that seemed slightly out of your league?
He looked so little from where I sat, waiting to turn left back around the last leg of the triangle toward him, my heart beating hard. Huge SUVs stopped in both directions, but he still didn’t move and then I watched as both Dads got out of their trucks and waved him across the street. He waved back at them merrily and disappeared up the hill toward his classroom.
He did it all by himself, with a lot of help from our lovely neighborhood school community. My children are so lucky to live in such a kind world. To trust that adults are there to help them and to be right. It’s a gift that is easy to forget. I remembered in trauma training the instructor explaining that the young mothers we would mentor did not believe that people were good. They did not believe that people would help them. Their life experience had taught them that people who were supposed to be loving, trustworthy, and competent were unpredictable, capricious, and sometimes cruel.
It takes time to tell you this story, but it all happened in an instant. I turned my blinker off and drove Quinn to school.
Next year, when they are second-graders, with proper instruction and practice, I think I’ll let them walk to school. I trust my children and, within reason, our community and that is a gift too.