Sometimes that's all it takes
We're only human
We're supposed to make mistakes
Tuesday afternoon. I'd been raking out in the sun; cleaned up the kitchen; put Chloe down for a nap and was feeling so relaxed and on top of the world I thought maybe, just maybe I'd settle down and take a little nap myself.
The phone rang.
"Hi, Deb? This is Karen at Ellsworth. I have Ethan here in the office. Did you forget that it's early release today?"
Ethan's school has this annoying habit of having endless early release days for parent-teacher conferences. There's usually three in one week, and then for some unfathomable reason they throw in another one the following Tuesday. I'd never forgotten an early release day. I'd never forgotten to pick up my child at school.
Well, there's always a first for everything.
I threw the baby in the car (well, not literally) and started racing toward the school. All of this was awakening a memory. Sixth grade at Springfield Christian School. November 12, 1985. Yeah, I can't forget the date because not only am I rather autistic-like about dates, but also, that day horrifically two police officers were shot and killed right next door to my school. That sleety afternoon, a car slid and slammed into our school bus. Aside from the fear as we all pressed our faces against the windows and watched the paramedics whisk away a woman from the car, I remember thinking that it was getting later and later. My mom would be wondering where we were. This was of course before the days of cell phones or text message alerts. I imagined my mom glancing at the clock, watching the minutes tick by and wondering. I felt almost panicked. We have to tell her we're okay, I kept thinking over and over.
Since then I not only don't like it when other people are really late with no explanation, but I hate to keep people waiting and wondering. Especially my husband or kids.
On the highway I wondered if Ethan was traumatized. I wondered if he'd obsess from now on about whether or not I'd pick him up or go into a panic if I was a few minutes late. I tried not to think of him there waiting with the classroom paraprofessional outside, looking for any sign of me or my car, but that made me want to cry, so I stopped.
I have to make it up to him, I suddenly found myself thinking, pulling into the parking lot. Maybe I could get him something at Target after school to take his mind off things. What could I get him? I considered the whiffle ball and bat he'd been eyeing, or some kind of snack.
Thirty seconds into that, I wondered what in the world I was doing. Was I trying to buy my son's peace of mind? Worse than that, was I trying to earn something to make up for feeling like a crummy mom? Ethan might need my comfort, but this wasn't the way.
In the office, I breathed in grace. Ethan was not alone but was with four other little boys whose parents had also forgotten them, and one was his close friend. The school secretary, who happens to be Anna's three-year-old preschool teacher (completely different school -- how cool is that?) gave me a warm but tired smile. The tired part had everything to do with the five boys, who were, shall we say, a tad rambunctious.
"Why are you so late?" Ethan demanded.
"Because I'm human, Ethan," I answered matter-of-factly, knowing all too well he probably didn't quite get what this meant. "But I'm so sorry," I added, giving him a monster hug.
In the car I still had to shake the guilt a bit, when Ethan told about waiting for me and that he "missed me." I reassured him that someone would always be there to get him, even if we were late, and that he didn't have to be afraid. We talked more about the fact that sometimes even grown-ups make mistakes. We drove by the way to Target and kept going. No goodies, just conversation.
Ethan didn't need a prize. He needs to learn, ever so gently and slowly, how to adjust that concrete mind and understand that sometimes parents, sometimes people, don't do exactly what they're supposed to. And it's frustrating. But in those moments, he can learn to work through it. He can learn not only how to receive grace, but how to extend it.