Those panicky moments of parenting
This has been the first week that weather conditions are favorable for the kids to ride their bikes to school. They have been eagerly anticipating it; especially my twelve-year-old who prefers not to ride with me because she likes to be early. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say she doesn’t like sliding into her desk just as the bell rings. I’m a sucker for racing against a deadline, but my kids don’t always appreciate it.
This morning, she opted to leave before her younger brother. He tends to linger over breakfast, and then takes his sweet time packing his backpack, pulling on his socks, and turning back to retrieve forgotten items. Initially, she indicated that she would wait outside, so when I saw that he was going for a second serving of scrambled eggs, I opted to let her know she should go without him.
I found it odd that the overhead door on the garage was closed. Thinking she must be right outside, I hit the button and waited while it slowly opened. She wasn’t there. I walked to the front of the house, calling her name, and it crossed my mind that the street was unusually quiet. Realizing she had already left, I went back inside.
After getting brother off to school, I ran a couple of errands, and then decided to work from McDonald’s. I had just finished my first cup of coffee when the phone rang.
“This is the school nurse. I’m calling about your daughter.”
I waited, thinking perhaps she wasn’t feeling well, or had taken a spill on the playground, but the nurse was silent. It was then that I realized she was calling about an absence.
“She is there, isn’t she?”
“No, ma’am, that’s why I’m calling.”
My chest seized in fear.
“She left at 7:40 this morning, I assumed she was there!”
“Hold on, let me check.”
“Check quickly, because I am really panicking right now.”
In the seemingly interminable amount of time that I waited for the nurse to return, I grabbed my laptop, ran to the car, and tried to ignore the stabbing pain in my chest. I began making a mental checklist:
First, I’ll call her cell phone, and then the police. What was she wearing this morning? No, I should call the police first, and then her cell phone. I’ll need to call her dad. Then I’ll start searching along the route she always takes. Where else would she go? Was her bike still in the garage this morning? Maybe when she was collecting money for the Heart Association last night, one of the neighbors told her to come back later. Oh god, I knew there was a reason the new neighbors have a box truck. I need to check the sex offenders website again. Maybe she stopped at her grandparent’s house. Why can’t I remember what she was wearing? Why didn’t I look at her more closely? Did I hug her goodbye?
The nurse came back on the phone:
“I am so sorry. There’s a….”
“IS SHE THERE?!” I half screamed, half sobbed into the phone.
“Yes. Yes, she is here.”
I’m sure the nurse went on to offer an appropriate apology, but I don’t remember anything else. I collapsed onto the steering wheel and sobbed great, heaping sobs of relief. Then I cried out some pain that was lingering from other situations in my life. And then I cried because I’d tossed my Egg McMuffin in the trash as I ran out the door.
I drove to the school so I could lay eyes on my little girl, and make certain they hadn’t been further mistaken. The principal talked with me about the changes she plans to implement, and then, still a little shaky, I came home and wrote this article. From this day forward, I won’t forget whether I hugged my kids when they left for school. I might just hold their hands and walk with them, only letting go long enough for them to accept their diploma.
Ginger Claremohr is an author, motivational speaker, and mother of five whose column appears weekly across the Midwest. Follow her on Facebook, find her on the web: www.claremohr.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.