Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The time I almost got kidnapped.

Racing with my brother Josh, 1993.

Every Wednesday, my kids' school gets out an hour early to give the teachers some extra preparation time. I remember when I was little, attending a school in the same district, we were also released an hour early on Wednesdays.

As a kid, I thought this policy was just about the best thing ever. But as a mom, it stresses me out a little because I have to remember that my children will be home an hour earlier than normal on that day. And yes, I have forgotten once or twice!

I know I'm not the only mom who has -- in fact, my own mother forgot to pick us up on an early release day, too.

My twin brother Josh and I were in first grade, about the time the above picture was taken. We lived in the same residential tract as our school, but we were still too young to walk by ourselves. So, our dad walked with us most of the way each morning, and our mom picked us up from school each afternoon.

I remember on this particular Wednesday, we got out of class as we always did and I headed up to the front of the school. Normally, Mom was already there waiting in her car by the time we came out. But not this day.

I was a very worried child, so I started to panic a little inside. She's probably on her way, I assured myself.

The minutes ticked by. Any second now. I had faith she would show, but it was quickly waning.

The playground slowly emptied as children found their parents, hopped in their respective cars and drove away. Soon, all the buses had departed, too. Even Josh was worried now. It seemed Mom had forgotten us! Horrified by this realization, we started crying.

We were just about to go back into the school to ask a teacher for help when a man pulled up in an old brown car. At that moment, I noticed there was another kid who was still waiting there, too. He was older than us, probably in third or fourth grade. I assumed this man must be his dad.

The man pulled up and got out of his car and the boy got into it. The man then asked us if a parent was coming for us, though he he surely must've noticed our tear-streaked faces and knew the answer to that question. THEY WERE NOT COMING.

Strangely, at that moment, he simply told us he would take us home. He didn't offer to walk us back to the school's office and didn't even ask if we wanted his help. He just directed us to get in his car.

Well, lucky for us, our parents had discussed "stranger danger" with us prior to this incident, so we didn't oblige him. We first nicely told him, "No, thank you." But he kept pressing the issue. "Get in, and I'll take you home!" I remember him saying. He even seemed a little angry about it. We adamantly refused.

At this point, my insides were starting to collapse in on themselves and I was pretty certain we were going to be kidnapped. The tears were really rolling now. We were surely going to be forced into this stranger's car, and then? Who knows where we'd end up! I felt sicker than ever.

Just then, Mom came barreling around the corner in The Green Car, an ancient boat from the 1970's that had olive green paint, velvet seats and only lap belts for restraints. Never had I been more thrilled to see The Green Car in my life!

Mom hopped out and we screamed, "Where WERE you?!" She sheepishly apologized for forgetting to pick us up. At the time, it seemed like she was about an hour late, though I'm now pretty certain it was no more than 15 minutes.

The man nervously explained to her that he offered to take us home, but we wouldn't get in the car. He even laughed about it a little. I felt embarrassed.

On the drive home, Mom interrogated us about that guy who was trying to take us home. "Why didn't you get in the car with him?" she asked. We answered that he was a stranger and we were taught never to go with a person we didn't know. She was proud of us, I could tell.

Thinking back, he probably wasn't a kidnapper or anything of the sort. But he WAS a stranger. Now that I'm a parent, I can hardly imagine telling a child I didn't know to get in my car. But I can imagine forgetting to pick up my child.

Actually, a few years ago, I did.

I didn't normally pick up the kids in the afternoon, but the neighbor who carpooled with us asked me if I could. It was an early release day to boot.

I was nursing Clara when my neighbor called, asking if I was having trouble picking up the girls. In horror, I yanked Clara off my boob, threw her and Carson into my van and raced over to the school as fast as I could, all the while apologizing to my neighbor for my colossal mistake.

On my way there, the school called to notify me they had Audrey and her friend in the office. The lady was very nice about my forgetfulness. I was relieved that they were safe. I had imagined them wandering the streets, crying as I had at about the same age 20-something years prior. I couldn't bring myself to consider anything worse than that.

When I arrived, the girls were both tear-stained and fuming with me as I had been with my mother when she made the same grave error before. "How could you forget us!?" Audrey asked, indignant. I sighed and calmly said, "Well ... I'm a mom. I have a lot on my mind. And I was feeding Clara, and I just forgot! I'm so sorry!" I imagined my mom saying something similar to me. It somehow seemed funny now.

Thankfully, another mom had seen Audrey and her friend roaming the streets looking for my car and walked them back to the front office of the school. Notice how she didn't try to put them in her car, because that's just asking for trouble. Rule #1 of Being Lost is STAY PUT and Rule #1 of Being a Child is don't get into cars with strangers. So you're probably not going to get too far if you try that on a kid who's been taught better.

Anyway.

It's interesting to be a parent and reflect on your childhood. You see so much of your parents in yourself. It's both humbling and humorous. I was so outraged when my mom ABANDONED my brother and me at our school, even though it was an honest (and really insignificant) mistake. And then, my own daughter was similarly offended when I did the exact same thing to her. Someday, she too will forget to pick up her child at school (thanks to that cursed Early Release schedule), and she'll recall my mishap and finally forgive me.

It's the circle of life. It moves us all.

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