I’m generally considered a competent sort, not one to panic in a crisis. Reliable. Someone you can count on. Give me a job and I’ll get it done.
Most of the time.
This week, our eldest son needed someone to pick up our granddaughter, Sadie, from school. It was a last-minute thing. Normally he does it but he had an unexpected appointment he couldn’t change. He called us. Sweetie was heading out of town but knew I would be working at home. Could I help?
How hard could this be, I thought? The school is less than ten minutes from our house, I’d drive over, pick up the munchkin, bring her home, feed her milk and cookies, keep her busy while I returned to my work. Shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. Our son said, “She knows you’ll be picking her up. She’ll be easy to spot…she’s wearing a bright pink snowsuit.”
It starts well. I leave the house a bit early, park the car, find the appropriate door where I join other people waiting to get their kids. So far, so good. I’m confident. Piece of cake. Easy peasy. It’s interesting at first. It’s been many years since I picked up a child from school and as I look around at the other waiters, I realize just how much time has passed. The parents look like my kids. Which makes me… what exactly?
The first batch of small fry come bouncing out, pushing, chortling, jumping up and down. There’s a pink snowsuit! And another. And another. And…. It’s a sea of little girls in snowsuits, all pink. Not good. Not good at all.
No sign of Sadie but I’m not worried. It’s only the first group. I’m more interested, actually, in how things have changed. These little ones aren’t allowed to take off until the teacher with them spots the appropriate adult, then releases them. More small fry appear. More bouncing, pushing, chortling… more pink snowsuits. Many more pink snowsuits. My eyes dart about, trying to search every little face. But they’re moving so fast!
Still no Sadie.
A little niggle of worry begins to worm its way through my brain. Have I missed her? Am I at the wrong door? Is she over with that monster group of kids waiting to board the school buses? HAS SHE GOT ON A BUS? HAVE I LOST HER?? SADIE, WHERE ARE YOU???
Breathe, I say to myself. I can handle this. I’m competent. Reliable.
I march over to one of the teachers still protecting her charges – and who has been eyeballing me suspiciously. Wondering, no doubt, who this strange woman is, now looking frazzled and possibly, crazy? I introduce myself, tell her who I’m looking for. “What grade is she in?” asks the teacher.
“Um,” says I.
Grade? I search my brain frantically. “One?”
Did I get the right answer?
“No, wait! She just turned 8 so that would make her in grade two, right?” I say triumphantly, waiting for the teacher’s approval.
She looks at me pityingly. “I only teach grade ones. I don’t know her. Try the office.”
The worry niggle has now branched out and is beginning to settle in the pit of my stomach. I make my way to the office, noting as I wander down the hall of the school that it still smells the same, looks the same. Kind of musty. Kids’ art work everywhere, kids carrying boots and hats, a few lost mittens here and there, a scarf or two. Kids waiting on a bench inside the office. I introduce myself again. Explain my mission again. The school secretary peers over the tops of her glasses. Suspiciously.
“Did she bring a note saying you’d be picking her up?”
“Um,” says I.
“I don’t know. Her father said it was all arranged.”
Another look. Now the other teachers in the office are looking at me. The kids on the bench are looking at me. The secretary gets on the school public address system, calls for Sadie to come to the office. Apparently it can be heard within a mile radius of the schoolyard. We wait. No Sadie. I tell the secretary I’m going back to the east door. Maybe she’s there now.
“If you find her, bring her back to the office,” barks the secretary.
I beat a hasty retreat, burst through the door, glad to have escaped the disapproval. And there’s Sadie. In a pink snowsuit. Playing in the snow.
“Sadie!” I shout, filled with relief. She jumps.
“What are you doing here?” she says. It seems her mom wasn’t sure whether it would be me or Sweetie who picked her up. And Sadie forgot anyway.
I remind her it’s me today and tell her we have to go to the office first before we can leave. She looks confused. For a moment, I contemplate just taking her home. But I don’t want to get us both in trouble.
“I found her!” I say to the secretary.
“We have no record of you picking her up nor do we have you as a contact person,” says the secretary. Glaring.
“Um,” says I.
“I don’t know what to tell you. Her father was supposed to have made the arrangements.” Sadie looks worried.
The secretary tells us to wait while she consults the principal. The principal comes out, we repeat the conversation I’ve just had with the secretary. Sadie looks as if she’s shrinking into her snowsuit.
“Who is this lady, Sadie?” says the principal.
Sadie, in a tiny voice, says, “It’s my grandma.” I blink. Grandma? She’s never called me her grandma. I’m Nana Barb. But it’s a good answer. The right answer in fact. The best answer! Way to go, Sadie! I smile at the principal expectantly.
The principal decides to let us off with a warning. Just this once, she says.
We beetle out of there to the car, Sadie now chattering happily. She tells me how she was planning to break one of her dad’s video games if he’d been late picking her up. Fortunately, I don’t have any video games. We make it home. Milk and cookies are consumed. Her dad shows up a while later.
“How’d it go?” he asks. “Everything alright?”
“Um,” says I.