La La How The Life Goes On

Home Alone

Posted on: February 9, 2012

Who can forget those halcyon days when Macauley Culkin was cute rather than the poor man’s love child of Ron Weasley and The Joker? Remember that impish little face that borrowed heavily from The Scream? Remember how funny that movie was precisely because the notion that parents would forget their kid was so ludicrous? Well, hello my neighbor in 2012.

Last week Bambina’s friend’s mom called about an hour before school dismissal to ask if her daughter could walk home with Bambina and stay with us for a bit because she had to drive another kid to some activity. We agreed we would each contact the school to tell our girls to stay together. Which I did. So, 15 minutes after dismissal and I’m seeing no Bambina, I’m getting ready to call out the dogs. I called her on her little emergency cell phone to make sure she was on her way. Which she wasn’t. She was, as I had directed her, waiting for her friend, who was nowhere to be found. Loooooong after everyone had left the school. So I told her to start walking and I’d come meet her half way. So I was not only trying to calm down my freaked out daughter, I was having a coronary about where her friend could possibly be.

I packed up poor Baby Sister, who was home sick, and began a walking search of every henhouse, doghouse and outhouse in our neighborhood, trying to track this missing girl down. As I was hurriedly walking toward Bambina, carrying Baby Sister, I had to make The Call. The call to tell a mom that I have misplaced her daughter. I was absolutely ready to vomit, thinking I have royally fucked up a simple child’s walk home. I got the mom, I told her that her child was not outside the school, that Bambina waited 15 minutes, that I am combing the neighborhood, that…WHAT?!….you forgot to call the school?!

Oh yes. Friends, she FORGOT to call and tell her child where to go after school. She just forgot. What?! So where the hell might your child be then, if she left school, didn’t see you, and didn’t have instructions on where to go? I could tell she was freaked out because she kept repeating, “I meant to call from the car, I meant to call from the car…” so while she called the school, my girls and I essentially trespassed on every piece of property between the school and her friend’s house, yelling her name like a goddamn bona fide search party. Did I mention it was icy freezing that day? Did I mention Baby Sister was sick as a dog? Did I mention my leg is in a brace from my knee surgery, so walking fast while carrying a 35 pound grumpy human is not the recommended physical therapy? Most importantly, did I mention we found the girl freezing outside her house, looking white as a ghost? And did I mention I could have fucking cried with relief?

So what can one say after a bowel-lurchingly scary event like that? The mom apologized, “I was just so busy!” Both girls began playing happily. Baby Sister stayed grumpy and sick. I don’t want to slam this mom because shit can happen to anyone, and please believe that if my child goes missing, even if by direct result of my own fuckery, I still fervently pray that someone else’s mom will drop what she’s doing and find my kid regardless of the drama involved. But—what of this life we as a culture have created for our families? This family is so overscheduled with activities that the mother FORGOT about her other daughter. Didn’t forget her lunch. Didn’t forget her gym shoes. Didn’t forget soccer practice. She forgot her child. She was so harried getting everyone from event to event to event without ever imagining that her older kid could arrive late to practice that one day because they needed to pick up her younger sister from school. That option never entered her mind amid The Tyranny of the Schedule. Amid the Manifest Destiny of her children’s future greatness via enrichment activities. Amid the crushing social pressure to “involve” her kids in all manner of success-ensuring avocations. Amid the seeming collective and individual unwillingness to ponder precisely who all of these activities really are for in the end.

The whole situation just made me sad. The mom was apologetic and rattled. But not rattled enough to contemplate That Which Must Not Be Named: loosening up the Teutonic-style schedule. All I’m saying is that if I ever EVER forgot about my child, I would not rest my head on my pillow until I had taken a long, hard look at the circumstances that made it possible–and changed them. My heart ached for this girl because her mom was very nonchalant about “forgetting” her. I mean, kids aren’t snowflakes. Sometimes you will arrive late, you will get stuck in traffic, sometimes your child will have moments of wondering where you are. These are the vagaries of life and must be dealt with bravely. These events are no big deal. But just not showing up because you forgot? I’m not even sure where to categorize that in my brain’s card catalog besides under Shit Moms Don’t Get To Do.

To be fair, had the girl been a bit older this probably would not have been a big deal. But second graders are still creatures of habit, of repetition. In my attempts to more free-range parent I thought I had prepped Bambina for such scenarios, all of which began and ended with “go back into the school building and find a teacher.” But even with all that prep, in real time she stood outside the building feeling scared because I had previously told her to wait. Bambina is no dummy, but this scenario demonstrated that the addition of any unexpected variable completely changes the dynamic, leaving a confident, prepared kid not knowing what to do.

So what’s the solution? Well, we have mandatory TV watching-while-eating-ice-cream Mondays and Tuesdays after school. We limit both girls to two activities per semester, no matter how badly they really want to ice skate or swim or learn French. Pick two and stop whining. You’ll thank me later. And we will now create a bottom-line rule my kid can go to for safety if all other rules go FUBAR, while rigorously prepping her (lesson learned) for the exceedingly high likelihood of FUBARity. After all, forewarned is FUBAR-armed—and that is something worth remembering.

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