It starts off a typical Friday morning, where I stand in the shower and meticulously plot out what to do with my 2.25 hours of allotted free time for the week.
Husband has the cute suggestion that today I should go have lunch with our kindergartner, Kid #2.
Husband had lunch with Kid #2 before and it was no less than the highlight of Kid #2’s life since October 2009 when he first breathed air.
Kid #2 gives an excited yell, signaling to me that, yes, he would love for me to meet up with him at the cafegymatorium today.
Husband definitively (important word here) tells me the kindergarten lunch begins at 11:45. Mental note made. Thanks, dear.
Kids head to school and I go off on my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s to buy such basic-need items as turkey-flavored potato chips and pumpkin-flavored pumpkin seeds. Done and done.
An hour later I head to school for lunch, right on time, first doing the mandatory check in at the school office followed by the mandatory schmoozing with the gatekeepers.
“Your son is in kindergarten?” the receptionist asks. Pause. “Their lunch is almost over. You better hurry before they start recess,” she bleats.
Whaaaat?!?! My heart sinks.
Kindergarten teacher spots me in the hall and asks how the lunch was, tells me how excited Kid #2 was all morning. Excited. All morning. And in the time it takes me to walk down the hall, kids are already stuffing canned peas into their now-empty milk cartons.
Translation of Kid #2’s look when I walk in late: “I thought you said you loved me.”
Flashback now to article by M. Blazoned who truth-bombs about being The Default Parent. Numero Uno, the person in charge of the charges, that’s me. Default Parent is backed up by none other than Back-up Parent. That would be my husband. Back-up Parent has a Very Important Work Life and only a vague understanding of what happens in school. Back-up Parent realizes there is a place called school where his children spend most of the day. Back-up Parent knows the location. Back-up Parent has attended Family Nature Night there. But to describe what actually goes on inside the building, the routine, the homework – that’s tricky. Spelling tests, what days? Every week? Friday folder, every Friday? Was I supposed to check this? Default Parent checks Friday folder THE moment kids enter the van on Friday before important papers spontaneously combust – whereas Back-up Parent knows only that a Friday folder exists, possibly on Friday, to bring papers back to (and from?) home, and that some selected (important?) papers at some point will be seen by Back-up Parent when they are placed near his wallet and car keys.
In conclusion, Default Parent should never take the word of Back-up Parent as to what time Kid #2 has lunch at school.
Flashforward to last minute of lunch. Kid #2 smiles weakly and a lot of commotion surrounding my lateness ensues. Since I didn’t follow him into the cafegymatorium with his class at the start of lunch like a decent human being would do, there is no seat for me at his table with his friends. A teacher assistant and the principal come over to help. “So glad you could make it!” the principal feigns, as if talking to the keynote who arrived an hour late to the gala. At this point in the tragedy, I decide I probably shouldn’t burden Miss Tammy the Lunch Lady with asking for a food tray and playing the “Do I just enter the code here? Where? What button? Can I just pay cash? Oh, I don’t have cash…” game. So I don’t eat.
Kid #2 and I find a seat at the other table on the other side of the room with the other class of kids. “Who are these kids, are they your friends?!” I girly-squeal to Kid #2. “No, they’re kids from the other class,” Kid #2 mumbles back. And they look it, too. Like monosyllabic cavemen. Classic other-class kids.
I look over then to see a mildly-hip mom sitting across from me. We’re the only adults at the table, so of course I’m eager to exchange friendly glances, that silent acknowledgement of “Look at us sitting here at lunch! Oh, kids today. Ha!” But she doesn’t look up. I’ll save that glance for when she does.
I had spotted mildly-hip mom before, across the school yard one morning. Not my kid’s kindergarten class so I don’t have to invest time in you — a thought that of course crossed my mind. But mildly-hip parents are few and far between at our mildly-conservative school and I of course assume I’m mildly-hip — like maybe when I put on my rainbow-striped socks, Goodwill cardigan and take time to mess up my hair in a shoulder-shrug-who-cares kind of way. Or maybe that was the ‘90s?
So when I first spotted mildly-hip mom, at the time sporting her mustard-yellow peacoat and her Mia Wallace-bang renaissance, I figured this is a person I should know. She’s just like me! Except she’s mildly-hip.
Instead, here seated a mere fist-bump away now, mildly-hip mom WILL NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH ME.
Not even once, not even a glance upward while mumbling “hey,” not even a “kids today” eyeroll. For the ENTIRE WHOLE MINUTE OF LUNCH.
Recess time. We get ready to head out. I line up with the kids and now I’m the one not making eye contact. The kids hate my tardy guts. I’m scum. I’m like the deadbeat father who didn’t pay child support and then shows up late to the birthday party with only a partially-deflated Mylar balloon. Whereas mildly-hip mom is like the nun who led them to safety after fleeing from the Nazis.
A few other lunching parents interact with the kids on the playground. I stand back, hidden, ashamed. I’m a leper. I wasn’t with them in the lunch line so I don’t even get the inside jokes – and I can tell they’re all, “Hey, remember that one time we all ate macaroni and cheese?” Mildly-hip mom high-fives a random kid that she’s practically adopted by now.
Kid #2 runs up to me, and it’s like I haven’t seen him for hours, as the kids get ready to head back inside. “Can you sit in my class for a while like dad did?” Okay, I decide. Redemption time! As the kids walk in, his teacher overhears this and tells me they’re going to the other class’s room now to watch The Magic School Bus on TV. “Oh, do you want to join us still?” Okay, just for a few minutes, I say. Me staring at a screen with Kid #2: This will be the highlight of his day.
Walking in I spot Kid #1’s former teacher and we stand and talk a while about her new grandbaby. “I CANNOT believe you have FOUR grandkids now!” I lamely exclaim, as if no one has ever had more than three. Turning around, I then realize…the kids are all gone. Off to the other class! For The Magic School Bus! Wait, where is the other class? I have no idea! Across the building? For a fleeting moment I have the completely ridiculous idea of texting Back-up Parent to ask him the location of the other class. Hahahahahahaha! Ummm, no.
Instead, I quietly sneak back to the office, slide my visitor badge across the reception desk, and skulk back to my van. As I peel out of my bus-loading-zone-only parking spot, I wonder to myself whether many years into the future Kid #2 will tidy this up in his mind, instead remembering it fondly as the best time we shared. Or maybe, confused, he’ll scratch his head and ask, “Was that the day I watched The Magic School Bus?” Sure, you remember, I’ll say. We sat there in the cafegymatorium for a minute or so? And remember those Neanderthal kids? And you mumbled something? And I didn’t eat — but I think they served macaroni and cheese? We sure had fun.