Thursday, February 7, 2019

Just Do the Right Thing

Back when I was in grade school I started subscribing to the belief that I was a victim of what I called "The Goody Two-Shoes Curse." What that meant was, everyone else could get away with something habitually while the ONE time I tried to bend the rules, I would get caught.

This started way back in second grade, when some older kids used to sneak across the street and get candy from a convenience store before we had to go inside the school. The one time my friend and I tried, we were busted well before we got there. Next I tried reading a book under my desk instead of paying attention and got caught first time. Acting out towards the whining neighbor kid: his mom saw me and told my parents. Punishment ensued.

This continued through high school. My best friend and I were at a golf course trying to find where the popular people were hiding and partying when who got stopped by the police but us -- while they continued blissfully partying. The officer threated to bring us back home in his cruiser.

Over time I realized that I wasn't very good at being bad anyway, would never possess much of a rebel personality, and had a screaming loud conscience, so why not just listen to it and not try to be something I wasn't? And so I never smoked a cigarette or got inebriated. Most of my bending of the rules has occurred with speed limits and red lights (and even then, I've gotten caught -- multiple times!).

I say all of this to say I should have known better, the day before Christmas break, when Ethan had a musical event at his school and the parking lot was jam-packed. Everyone was in a festive mood. I was running late because Chloe had to gather her Christmas light necklace and blinking headband. Even though we lived just around the corner we drove there and I realized there was nowhere to park, we were late, and since I didn't feel like traipsing from way in the back of the school, I was going to just park on the grass in the front as several other parents had done.

I took a deep breath and went over the curb and onto the grass, looking around slyly for anyone protesting my actions. All clear. Chloe and I booked into the school and managed to slide into some of the few remaining seats. Kids sang and holiday cheer was spread around, and then it was time to go. The school day had ended and we were left pushing through the mass chaos of hundreds of kids dismissed for their holiday break. At the car I buckled the kids in and we were off...only, we weren't.

There was something I'd forgotten when I parked on the grass. It may have been December, but we'd just had a little warm spell and a boatload of rain. The snowless ground was not frozen but very, very wet and muddy.

My tires spun. And spun. And spun. I got out of the car as other parents climbed into their properly parked cars and began driving away. I looked down at my tires. They were inches upon inches deep in mud.

"MOM? What's going on!" Ethan demanded. "I want to go home!"

I tried again. Nothing except the smell of burning rubber. "Ethan, get out of the car and help push," I hissed, exasperated. What I expected to accomplish, I don't know. The kid is as skinny as a rail. I thought of the parents getting into their cars whispering, "What is she doing, having her son try to push the car?" But I couldn't exactly ask him to get behind the wheel while I pushed.

Chloe started crying and asking, "When are we going??" I pressed the gas pedal harder, twisted the wheel back and forth. Mud was shooting up and spraying all over the van. My shoes were caked with mud. I looked out at the buses loading up kids and parents and students walking to their cars. I knew there was only one thing we could do.

"Kids," I announced. "We have to walk home." You can imagine how this went over. I ignored the wailing as we gathered backpacks, papers, and gifts from teachers. Outside it was now raining and we hunched under our hoods, trudging in our mud-covered shoes past parents who weren't dumb enough to park in the mud. There were a few other cars still parked next to us on the grass, but I'm pretty sure they had four-wheel drive.

Our walk home is literally a tenth of a mile, but it was long enough. We walked up the hill behind the school as parents in the car pick-up line looked on, curious; flung our things over the ladder attached to the fence that divides our neighborhood's property from the school; and slogged down the hill through the backyard.

"MOM GOT US STUCK IN THE MUD!" Ethan took pleasure in announcing to Dan, who'd been home with a migraine, and Anna as we got inside.

The fun was only just beginning. Anna took charge of the house while Dan and I rode back to the school in his car. He took one look at the car and how far sunk in the mud it was and asked incredulously, "What did you DO?"

After a few minutes of him attempting to get me unstuck it became obvious -- I was going to have to be towed. We drove back home and called AAA while the kids asked when we were going to have dinner. AAA called us back 15 minutes later to say they were on their way, so back we drove to the school in the quickly growing darkness. I could see the lights of the tow truck approaching just as I saw the vice principal coming out to his car to leave. Further I slunk under my coat, hoping he wouldn't recognize me. In the school I could see the lights in the principal's office were still on -- and thought I glimpsed the shadow of her head peering out the window as the truck pulled up.

"Well, well," said the driver as he examined my mess. "You got yourself stuck pretty good." I loved the way the flashing yellow lights reflected all over the school building and even onto the houses across the street. Just the attention we needed.

As he uncoiled a very long chain to connect to my car, I noticed there was a woman sitting in one of the few cars left in the parking lot. "Did you see that woman?" Dan asked a moment later. "She was sitting in her car laughing at us."

After more lights flashing and beepers beeping my van was hauled out of the mud -- 3 1/2 hours after I'd originally parked it. The janitors in the schools were sweeping the halls. The stars had started appearing.

Looking at my mud splattered car the next morning I sheepishly realized that I needed to stop going on about the Goody Two-Shoes Curse and just do the right thing. Even the little stuff. Our kids are watching. But even when no one's watching. You do what's right because it's right.

The other night we went to Ethan's school for his band concert. It was another warm, soggy kind of evening. I looked up at those risk-takers parked on the grass and eased into my "legal" parking spot. Humiliation really is one of the greatest teachers.