Beth travels sporadically for work. She just got back from a five-day trip to Pittsburgh (Friday morning to Tuesday night) for her union’s annual convention. It had been ten months since her last business trip, which is probably longer than usual, so I couldn’t complain, especially as it gets easier to parent solo as the kids get older. Beth was concerned about the trip, however, for one reason. Getting Noah on the school bus is her responsibility and it’s a much bigger one since he started middle school. He leaves the house a lot earlier than in elementary school. She wakes him at 5:50 and if he’s ready by 6:35 they walk the mile or so to his school bus stop. Otherwise, they take a Ride-On bus to his stop. Luckily, three different bus lines that go there stop right in front of our house. In the event that he’s not ready by 7:00, however, Beth has to drive him to school. Because I don’t drive, we would lack that safety net. Plus, to put it mildly, I am not a morning person.
Starting about three weeks before the trip, Beth started coaching Noah, pushing him harder to get ready quickly, trying to make being on time second nature. It worked pretty well. She didn’t have to drive him even once, excepting the day he needed her to transport a bulky item to school. (FYI: It’s a podium he constructed for a monologue he’s giving as Daedalus, for Greekfest. It’s made of a milk crate covered with plywood, sprayed with metallic silver paint, covered with moving gears from an old robot kit and bearing the word Daedalus, in ancient Greek characters.)
The weekend Beth was gone was busy but pleasant. Friday night we ordered pizza and made oatmeal cookies. Over the next two days, we spent a lot of time outside; we all participated in a creek cleanup, and I worked a lot in the garden, weeding and digging up the beds where will plant flowers, melons, and vegetables. I also took June to an Earth Day celebration at the Co-op where she got a peacock feather painted on her face and to the playground where we waded in the creek (and where I dropped and drowned my phone). We got ice cream from the ice cream truck and when June asked if maple seeds were edible, I checked the Internet and found out they are, so she spent a lot of time gathering maple keys and prying them open to extract the seeds, which I roasted for her. (In case you’re curious, they don’t have much taste, but they make a good vehicle for salt and pepper.)
June’s main regret was that she had to skip gymnastics because it conflicted with the creek cleanup and given the choice between a transportation-challenging activity and one we could walk to (and which would award Noah two of the seventy-five Student Service Learning hours he needs to graduate from high school), I choose the easier option.
Sunday evening I followed Beth’s advice in the “Guide to Noah,” she’d left for me detailing what needed to be ready before he went to bed. Sample quote:
His backpack is packed.
He knows where his shoes, id, phone and SmartTrip are. Do not take his word for this. Make sure you see them too.
Noah went to bed reasonably close to his bedtime and I felt optimistic about the next day. The first glitch was when I noticed a bag of gym clothes in the bathroom. I went into his bedroom to ask about them and he said he’d brought those home on Friday and he needed to pack clean ones but he’d do it in the morning. I said okay, as he was in bed already, and I put a sticky note that said “gym clothes” on the front door.
“Everything was going great,” I told Beth on the phone later. “We were meeting all the goals.” (Beth’s instructions had also included a morning timeline.)
“And then?” she said.
Well, it was going great. I woke him, and made sure he entered and left the bathroom at the appointed times. He got dressed, packed gym clothes, and ate breakfast while I read first the newspaper and then a story to June, getting up occasionally to check on him. He wasn’t ready at 6:35, but he rarely is, so I was feeling confident just after 6:50 when we needed to go outside to catch the first of three Ride-On buses that arrive between 6:54 and 7:01.
And then for some crazy reason, I asked him, “Is your math homework in your backpack?” He checked. It was not. Noah got a C in math last quarter. He got an A on almost every assignment he turned in, and I think he did them all, but he frequently forgot to hand in his papers. This is actually an issue in all his classes, but math seems especially problematic. We mounted a quick search for the math homework, found it, and were running down the porch steps, him holding his unzipped backpack and me holding his binder, at 6:57 as the second of the three buses whizzed by our house. I said some words he’s never heard me say before, but I calmed down, reasoning there was still one bus left. It was fine.
And it would have been fine if that bus had ever come. As it was I put him on one that came at 7:10, with instructions to call me when he got to the school bus stop, hoping against hope his school bus would be late, but at 7:19 he called to say the bus stop was deserted. By 7:28, he’d come home on another bus. I could have had him just stay on the bus he took back home because it goes almost to another stop where there’s a Metro bus that goes to his school but he’s never done this particular maneuver and it involved crossing a major artery, with seven lanes of traffic, so instead we all walked to the stop. June was not pleased with this turn of events because she’d been intending to play on the Club Penguin web site before her 8:20 bus. Noah and I walked briskly, but she fell behind again and again, complaining she was tired, she was cold, wait up!
So we got to the bus stop, waited fifteen minutes, and when Noah got on the bus, I walked June to her school, getting home around 9:00. I’d spent over three hours getting the kids to school. (There was a message from Noah on the answering machine, indicating he’d arrived at school at 8:27. School starts at eight.)
I was determined to do better the next day. Monday evening I told Noah, “Tomorrow we’re going to catch that bus!”
“With a net!” he joked.
Well, he did catch the very first of the cluster of three buses. I sent him outside around 6:45, promising to join him as soon as I’d pulled on a pair of jeans and run a brush through my hair. June protested she wanted breakfast, but I told her I’d be back inside soon. I was outside by 6:50, on my way out grabbing a box Noah had left behind. (It contained the button cut from a circle of poster board and mounted on three springs with modeling clay. He’d made this for his Daedalus monologue. The idea is people will come up to him standing on the podium during Greekfest and push the button to get him to start talking. He also has a toga to wear and a pair of poster board wings with craft feathers glued all over them is still in the works.)
I’d had about ten minutes to bask in the triumph of having gotten Noah on the bus when I noticed his lunch box on the kitchen counter and my heart sank. I’d have to take it to school; there was no other option. He has band practice after school thee days a week and doesn’t get home until 4:30. Furthermore, he prides himself on never having eaten school lunch in his six and three quarters years of public school education, and I knew he’d skip lunch rather than break his streak. I briefly considered walking June to school again so I could get an earlier start than if we waited for her bus, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to skip her computer time again, so we stayed put. One of the parents at her bus stop offered to drive me part of the way to Noah’s school (until the point where our paths diverged) so I only had to take one bus instead of two, and I delivered his lunch to the main office at 8:45.
That evening, against my advice that she stay an extra night (which she thought was a joke but wasn’t), Beth left Pittsburgh after a full day of work and drove back to Maryland, arriving home well after our bedtime, for the express purpose of waking up early, getting Noah on the bus, and then going grocery shopping on her day off. We’re all glad to have her back and of course we missed her morning, noon, and night, but maybe just a little more in the mornings.