So with the three youngest of my five offspring in the car, I frantically made my way to the school of my 11-year-old for pick up. Needless to say, I caught every red light along the way. I jumped off to a side road thinking I was taking a shortcut. That’s when I found myself about four cars behind a school bus and it was too late. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that not only was this bus filled to capacity, but that it was the last remaining school bus that gave door to door service. It made more stops than an elderly man on oxygen scaling the stairs of the Empire State building. All the while, my frustration building and my patience faltering. I checked the dashboard clock in my minivan often, because as you will remember, I did not have a cell phone to give me the time. It was now reading 4:44 and I still had a good 10 minutes of travel.

Normally when I get to my daughter’s school to pick her up on these days, I’m about 50 cars deep in line even when I think I’m arriving early. But once I’m on campus, I still have a feeling of relief. Today however, as I pulled into the horseshoe driveway at 4:53 there was not a single vehicle to be found nor were there any children standing outside. I pulled directly in front of the main entrance and jumped out leaving my vehicle running. I got my three little ones out with a pace as if the van was on fire. I grabbed the baby still in his carrier with one hand, tucked the 3-year-old under my arm like I was trying to shoplift an Oriental rug, and had the 4-year-old run along side with one hand clutching the baby seat. We burst through the front door and ran to the office expecting to see my daughter sitting inside. The school office has a walk up sliding window like a bank teller in a shitty neighborhood, or the drive through lane of a fast food establishment.

Upon my frantic approach, the secretary slid open the window with a smile and asked how she could help me. My confused panic almost prompted me to order a burger and fries, but what I needed was a petite blue eyed blonde. I apologized for my tardiness, explained that I had been stuck behind a school bus and that I was here for my daughter. This kind lady looked at me briefly as if I had showed up in a gorilla costume, then calmly asked my daughter’s name and that of her teacher. I was puzzled for a second wondering just how many children were still here, and just where they harbored those who had been left behind.

At this moment, a massive harsh wave of my own stupidity came washing over me like a tsunami. I asked her what time it was and she told me that it was 3:55. Despite all of the red flags that popped up along my commute, like the school bus still dropping off children for example, it never once occurred to me until now that I was not in fact late but nearly an hour early.

If you recall from the very start of this long story, I had dropped my cell phone in the toilet this morning. This is the device that I normally use to tell accurate time, but it was currently sitting on a heat vent back at my home. In the last hour the only clocks I had looked at were the one on my microwave and the one on the dash of my car. Both of which, due to a combination of my own laziness and lack of tech savvy were still set to daylight savings time. So they are only accurate for 6 months out of each year and I was not currently dwelling in that time zone. The nice lady realizing my gaffe asked if I still wanted her to retrieve my child. I smiled with humiliation, and simply replied; “no thank you, we’ll be back”.

I, with my three youngest, slowly and humbly returned to my proud parent bumper sticker emblazoned suburban assault vehicle and climbed inside. I safely strapped them all in and sat for a moment in the nerd captain’s seat to contemplate my next move. I looked in my rearview mirror at the diminutive, angelic trio bundled up like we were entering the Iditarod. They were tired, hungry, and thus far infinitely patient. I recalled that I had no cellular device upon which they could occupy themselves by playing games or listening to toddler tunes for the next 45 minutes so their collective cooperation would be short lived. If we sat here and waited for the correct dismissal time mutiny would be imminent.

I hatched a plan that would deviate from the usual dietary practices I set for my kids, but would buy me just enough time while still providing them with smiles, patience, and a distant form of nourishment. I pulled away from the school in no particular hurry, and made my way about 4 miles down the road to McDonald’s. When it was my turn at the drive-thru, I ordered three Happy Meals. Two for my younger daughters, and one in anticipation of the reaction  my older daughter would have if I failed to get one for her.  I ordered a burger, (or maybe 2 or 3) for myself because I felt after this day that I had earned it. I filled a bottle with water and formula for the baby, and made my way back to the school.

We parked out front in a prime spot at around 4:30. Still early, but 15 minutes was something I could work with. As we sat waiting, I dispensed the desperation rations to my little girls and the bottle to my son. They began happily consuming their fries and the boot-shaped, mildly chicken flavored morsels all while playing with their new Pokemon toys, which is quite possibly the most irritating invention ever to come out of Japan and much to my dismay has made a comeback. Everyone was content for the time being.

Eventually, the students were released from the after-school, extra curricular activities. They came bursting out of the front doors and into the frigid cold as if the school itself were actually regurgitating them. Scores of young people exited in a fashion as if the front doors of a Wal Mart had just been opened on Black Friday morning. My daughter actually walked right past us, having not expecting us to be parked right in front of the main entrance. As she climbed into the car, she had a befuddled look on her face as if curious as to how I had uncharacteristically parked so close. She’s a very intuitive young lady given her age, so she immediately sensed something in my aura that told her not to question how I had procured such stellar parking accommodations. That paired with the pungent aroma of a deep fried poultry imposter permeating through the car caused her to bypass the questioning. She buckled up, opened her meal substitute, and we pulled away as she started telling me about the rigors of her day as a fifth grader.

It was now getting dark, it was bitterly cold, and had started raining again. About half way home, I recalled that we had roughly enough diapers to get through another hour since my son, despite his limited diet, had inherited his Father’s digestive system. We were also out of milk and I had nothing at home to make lunches for the next day (add to that the fact that my oldest daughter has developed a culinary palate that doesn’t include school cafeteria food). I didn’t have the heart to ask my bride to stop on the way home after a long day at work to get these items, nor did I have any means of communicating that request to her even if I did. A less than desirable stop at the grocery store was in my immediate future.

At this time, upon a cursory glance again in my rearview mirror, I discovered that all inhabitants of rows 2 and 3 of my vessel were peacefully sound asleep. Another wrinkle in my day, and another decision to be made…one which I will tell you all about soon in the conclusion of this story.

Thanks for playing along. Syd Nichols