There's a sign in front of the school that says that they don't open the doors until 8:30. There are a couple of cars in front of me, sitting, waiting, just as I intend to do. These kids aren't getting out of the car until the doors are open and I know they can go directly inside. I'm not letting my girls sit out in the cold like the 10-15 kids that are already out there waiting for school to start.
At 8:25, the safety team shows up. The safety team is a group of 5th graders that help load and unload kids from their cars. Surely if the safety team is here, the doors are about to open. One of the girls on the team opens the back door to my car, I kiss my kids, and they make their way into the growing mass of children outside. I pull away and round the corner. Then panic hits.
There's nothing like a little parental panic to ruin your morning. I fully intended on driving home and going back to bed. I don't have school today, I don't have work today... I have no plans other than picking the girls up when school gets out, then having my mother over for dinner. That's one of the wonderful things about living in Tulsa now - I can invite my mom over with only a day's notice and it doesn't have to be a big deal.
But here I am, half a block away from the school, frantically trying to find a side road that will get me back to the school so I can make sure my kids have made it inside.
I'm sure it sounds paranoid. That's the thing about parental panic - it doesn't always strike when there is reason. Often times, it is preemptive, coming on before there's really anything to worry about. I suppose it's one of those old survival instincts coming out to play tricks on us. But if you knew Kairi, I think you'd understand.
The thing about Kairi is that she is very little like her older sister. Gracie, by the time she was five, could have been trusted to walk the two blocks to her old school in our small hometown. God knows there's no way I actually let her, but that's not the point. The point is I could have. Kairi, however, is... let's say "adventurous." A couple of months ago, before we moved to Tulsa, the girls made friends with a neighbor and while they were across the street playing, there's a knock at our door. It's the girls' new friend. She tells me that Kairi has run off, and that Gracie is chasing after her. Jason and I ran outside and saw Gracie four or five houses down the street from where they were supposed to be, running toward the back yard. We quickly make our way down there and find that Kairi is trying to scale the fence of a house we've never been to, just to see what's back there. Needless to say, Kairi didn't visit her new friend unsupervised again.
I hope it's understandable why I would panic. As I'm driving back to the school, the scenario is running through my mind of, what if I hadn't decided to drive back to the school to make sure she made it in okay? What if she wandered off, and I show up to pick up my kids at 3:10 only to find out she never made it to class. "What do you mean, 'she's not here?!' I dropped her off SEVEN HOURS AGO. You mean to tell me that my kid - my FIVE YEAR OLD - has had SEVEN HOURS to just..." I don't even know how to finish that. I don't want to know how that scenario ends.
Just as I'm playing through the phone call to the police in my mind - "Yes, I need an officer at X Elementary School RIGHT NOW... Well, I dropped her off - No, I didn't actually SEE her walk into the school... Why are you wasting your time blaming ME for this? My KID is out there, SOMEWHERE, and what are we going to do about it?" - I pull up in front of the school. The mass of kids has grown in the few minutes I've been gone and I have a hard time finding my daughter in them. I'm considering pulling into the parking lot, other parents be damned, when I pick out her pink backpack in the crowd. There she is. Thank God.
The school doesn't open its doors until almost 8:40, despite what the sign out front says, and only after I see Kairi make her way into the school do I leave.
I'm not sure if my plans for returning to bed are completely ruined, or simply postponed. When I set out writing this, my heart was pounding so hard I was almost sweating, but as I sit here typing, I can smell the breakfast pot pie in the oven that's almost done, and I feel like maybe after my cheesy ham and egg in a crust treat, I'll be able to relax. I just hope my paranoid preemptive parental panic (alliteration is fun!) doesn't give me nightmares.