I thump-drag my way through the botanic gardens, wondering how I ended up here. The one muggy day of the year, and I’m carrying my shoe-less 3 year old through the “wetlands walk” while my sciatic nerve sends lightning shots up my tookus and across my back. Why not just go home? Why not get in the car, drive home, and go to sleep?
Because the 10 year old forgot her lunch. And she’s on a field trip. At the botanic gardens with 4 busloads of other kids, all of whom, presumably, remembered to put their lunches in their backpacks before getting to school. Let me replay for you my pleasant morning:
I arrived home after dropping the kids off at school, exercising for an hour and shopping for “calm the wild pre-pubescent” vitamin supplements (read: cod liver oil and primrose oil) at the local health food store. There, on the table, sat a paper bag, my child’s name and her teacher’s name written neatly on the front, all ready to be put into her backpack. Panicky, I scan my phone messages. Yup, there it is. “Mom, since we’re leaving in 7 minutes, I’m sure you can’t help me with this. But I think I left my lunch in the car (nope, honey, it didn’t get that far) and we have a field trip and I guess I just won’t eat lunch.” Oh, how early they learn about guilt. What did I have to feel guilty about? I’m the one who had packed the lunch and the snack and the water bottle, I had put all of them on the table together in plain sight, I got out the hiking backpack, and I reminded her about them at least 7 times before school. She managed to put the snack and water bottle in the backpack, and take the backpack to school, but somehow, the largest item of them all, with her name on it, didn’t make it. But, remembering what it means to go without lunch, I call the school. Can you contact the teachers? (Probably not). Can I take the lunch to the orphan? (Sure, give it a whirl). Without showering, and packing up the youngest one with promises of lots of cookies when we get home, I head to the gardens—30 minutes away.
When I get there, I see that there are no lunch totes. Scratch that. There are 2 lunch totes, and after going through them both, I realize that these are not the names of my child’s peers. They do not, in fact, even belong to our school district. So I head outside (why wasn’t this field trip to a small, enclosed place, like a prison?) and look for some sort of warm-bodied adult. I find one. Yes, she works there. No, they have no idea where any of the teachers are. But if I’d like, I can leave the lunch with the other totes. Um, but those aren’t from my child’s school. Oh, well, leave it close by and if we see her, we’ll get it to her. If you see her? How are you going to see my child, one of over a hundred here today? She won’t have a neon sign saying “FORGOT MY LUNCH” over her head. Oh, wait, you may recognize her because she’ll be cursing me because somehow, this whole forgotten lunch is, in her mind, my fault. Probably because I reminded her that she’d be outside and that it looked like rain and she might not want to wear crocs (she put socks on and wore the crocs anyway.)
The other option? I can follow the 2 mile path around the gardens in search of my poor, starving, neglected waif. What choice do I have? I follow the path. Meanwhile, of course, I realize that a stroller would be nice and that ours is conveniently located in the garage. I also realize that the child by my side, who has never forgotten her lunch but who often refuses to eat it, has worn the shoes that are 2 sizes to big. Thanks, Easter Bunny. Next time, get your sizing right. Within 20 yards of the entrance, she’s barefoot. Within 50 yards, she’s asking to be carried because there are rocks on the ground (!). Within the next 100 yards, my sciatic nerve joins the jamboree and I find that my left butt muscle is dancing the congo while I’m trying to limp around the “path” which has more tangents that Charles Dickens.
So, here I am. 45 minutes into my peaceful stroll around what would otherwise be a breathtaking setting, wondering if, after all, I should just let the child starve. It’s a lesson in responsibility, right? Only, my own mother worked during the days and never would have been able to bring lunch to me, and since I chose to be with my children instead of spending the time with thinking adults who can go out and buy their own freakin’ lunch, I can at least make sure I come through for the kids once in a while.
I see her, across the river (swollen with spring runoff, you know). I charge to the bottom of the wetlands path, race across a narrow footbridge, and hobble up the other side, all while carrying the heaviest 3 year old I’ve ever held. Pioneer woman I am not. I set the kid down, tell her it’s a game and she has to catch up with her sister, and send her running, barefoot, down the rocky path. Finally, we nab the 10-year-old right as her group is heading to lunch.
I expect fireworks, applause, perhaps tears of gratitude and joy that I risked my own life to find her. What do I get instead? “Oh, they got me a lunch at school.”
Of course they did.
This is not the cold-hearted institutional school of the ‘70’s. This is post-Donahue, liberal community education, where no child needs to go hungry. Apparently, no child needs to make a follow-up phone call home, either. “Gee, mom, they’re so nice at school. They took me to the cafeteria and I’ve got lots to eat for lunch now. I’ll be glad to pay you back out of my own money, since none of this is your fault and I should have been more responsible. Have I mentioned that I love you and that you’re the greatest Mom in the whole world?” I’m sure that’s what she was thinking, even if I barely got a kiss as she raced off to join her friends.