School Drop-Off Confessional

Ok. So. Full confessional.

I screwed up the car rider line at my daughter’s school this morning.

In my defense, I had an important errand to run, a plane to catch, and it had been, well…a Monday morning. But I screwed up. And so please consider this a public apology to anyone else affected. I did not mean to mess up your morning.

I should explain. See, her school is plopped right between two major downtown streets. And there is this one side street where the car rider line operates before and after school. You can make a quick turn left onto this street in the mornings, if you’re lucky, and you get there on time, and there aren’t already other cars driven by busy parents and containing squirrely kiddos lining the side street. Otherwise you have to navigate into the official car rider queue, which snakes around two city blocks in an effort to keep kids safe, parents moving through the line quickly, and other drivers not inconvenienced (In the interest of full confessional I should note that the school has made it clear that their preference is that we go the “queue route.”).

In my haste this morning (and in the fact that I was already thinking several hours ahead, as I am wont to do), I took a poorly calculated risk and chose the “turn left directly on to the side street if you can” route in an effort to save myself about 10 minutes. Only when I got to the left turn, I discovered I couldn’t do it. The side street was full. And so there I was. Stuck, with cars pulling up behind me, and about five minutes before the school doors would open for kiddos, thereby making the car line move on up.

Realizing I’d goofed, I pulled over as far as I could to the curb, leaving ample room for a car to get around me safely (and several did). I turned on my hazards, and hoped for the best. Now, again in my defense, before too long, multiple other parents dropping off my daughter’s peers were behind me, all of them having likely made the same gamble and all of us now in the same boat. I took a deep breath, thought, “Well, I should have done this differently, but here I am and now I just need to make the best of it.”

And then it happened. A “tap, tap” on my car window, driver’s side. The “tapper” was, I could only assume, another parent (someone I’d never seen or connected with), as I’d just seen him come out of the school, and so I rolled down my window, not sure what to expect.

I certainly didn’t expect a chastising about having goofed up the car rider line. But that’s exactly what I got.

I don’t remember actually saying a word for the 45 seconds or so that he made my errors clear. I only remember he finally walked away and I rolled up the window, stunned, as I replied, “Honey, he wanted me to know I made a mistake,” when my daughter said, “Why did he talk to you like that?”

The thing is, I did make a mistake. He was right. And I really am sorry.

But there’s also this–his entire tone indicated that I was next-to-nothing in his eyes. That I was a selfish, inconsiderate person. That I was carelessly disregarding the rules. He wasn’t kind. And his eye roll and head-shake of disgust as he walked away made my heart sink. I felt awful.

But now, sitting in seat 11C of a very crowded plane, a full week of work ahead of me, and the hole in my heart always left when I have to leave my girl behind when I travel gaping, all I can think is this: This guy–he knew nothing about my morning or my life or my work or my context or what in the world had led me to make a poor decision. He just judged. And then offered his judgment in such a way that even my 8 year-old took note and expressed concern.

And you know what? I don’t know anything about him either. Maybe he has a family member who is a crossing guard and deals with idiots like me all the time. Maybe he’s been stuck in traffic because of someone else’s mistake. Maybe he was angry at his boss or the weather. Maybe he was facing a stressful day. Maybe not much has gone his way in a while and he just felt like he needed to make something right.

I don’t know. What I do know is that he made me feel awful. And I likely made him frustrated. And in the space between was left the ruins of two people who have been irritated by and judged by one another without any regard for each other’s humanity.

So look, man, whoever you are: I really am sorry. I don’t argue your point. I just wish you’d offered it in a less condescending tone. And maybe had allowed some room for mistake instead of assuming my inherent selfishness.

But look, man, let me also say this: You and I live in a world where snap judgment and division are a way of life. Where criticism and assumption are wielded as twin blades in a daily battle to survive this very complex world we’ve created for ourselves. This is not a good thing. And you and I assuming the worst of each other doesn’t get us anywhere past that. And so I hope, one day, we are able to start over. Our kids go to school together after all–a school that teaches them about respect and care for one another, and about being their best selves.

You and I both did a pretty awful job at “best selves” this morning. And I think our kids deserve better.


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