Today was one of those days that didn’t go as planned.
It started off well for this pulled-in-too-many-directions working parent. The kids made it to school before the late bell rang. I got to work on time, despite unexpected traffic. I snagged a parking space right away, which, in snow-covered Boston, is a notable accomplishment. I had a positive meeting with a colleague, and then settled down at my desk to plow through my to do list. I had, in fact, scheduled myself into a two-hour cross-things-off-the-to-do-list meeting with myself. I was planning to stay late to get my email box down to zero. It was one of those days that are all about getting stuff done; I was on my way.
Then, I saw the email. From the principal of my kids’ school, it said the school had been evacuated because a large “crack” had been heard in the vicinity of the roof. After the authorities inspected, they determined the roof was fine, and staff and students returned to the building, though everyone stayed in the gym. And we could come get our kids early. If we couldn’t, they would remain in the gym for the rest of the day. We were asked to email in our questions; the phones, the school department reasoned, would be too busy to speak with every parent.
I immediately became suspicious. If the building was safe, why couldn’t the kids go to class? (Officials later disclosed that an extensive check of the school had continued on throughout the day. Having the kids in one place made it easier to ensure their safety in case something was wrong.)
What should I do? Leave the office to get my kids? Let them stay in the gym for the rest of the afternoon and then take the bus to afterschool? My husband was more sanguine. “They wouldn’t let them back in if it wasn’t safe,” he assured me.
But I’m a mom and those are my babies. I fretted (should I go or stay?), worried (are they ok?), and complained (what aren’t they telling us?). I did all of this in the sanctity of my office, though I shared my complaining with my non-parent coworkers who were kind to listen, with bemused, indulgent smiles and nods of their heads. They had their own to do lists to focus on, and they didn’t share the push/pull of being a working parent. I was torn. I didn’t want my kids to be the only.kids.left.in.the.gym. How awful—and too reminiscent of that time I left my son at school.
I was sitting at my desk, staring at the principal’s email, wishing for divine intervention, when my phone rang. It was my neighbor and friend, P. “I’m at school. Do you want me to get your kids?”
“Yes!” I cried. There it was: go home. The to do list could wait. I emailed the principal giving P permission to get my kids, grabbed my coat, and flew out the door (after gulping down two Advil brought to me by one of my lovely coworkers).
On the drive home, I realized how grateful I was to P for reaching out and offering her help. She left her office, too, to get her daughter, reasoning, as I did, that while our careers are incredibly important to us, our kids needed us (or, at least, we were in an unusual situation that called for our attention). When I arrived at her house, she was on a conference call, our children playing quietly in the next room. She had fed them lunch, set them up with games, and gotten back to her work from the comfort of her living room sofa.
The kids and I walked home, holding hands. They gave me the highlights of their day (on the roof situation: “we waited outside; it was cold” and on being picked up early: “it was fun to ride in P’s car!”) and raced down our driveway, skipping over packets of ice and crunching snow under their feet. They grabbed a snack and went off to play together, behaving wonderfully.
While they played, imagining themselves to be knights with long, sharp swords, I sat at my kitchen table, eyes on my laptop with work in front of me, relieved that everything, in the end, was okay. Everyone was safe. The roof didn’t collapse; the “crack” has been attributed to snow and ice shifting and melting. School is on for tomorrow (though more snow is coming tonight so that’s up in the air, too, I guess). I was able to leave my office and get to my kids; I know of others who were not able to do so. I have people who look out for my family. It may not have been a day that I had in mind when I woke up this morning, but days that don’t go as planned can be just as good as the ones that do.