We inched into the parking lot…my head on a swivel… eyes constantly searching for the white gleam of a reverse light, or the tell-tale signals of a parent approaching his or her vehicle in preparations to leave – the hurried walk, head down or glancing at a timepiece; the jingling of the keys; the bewildered stare, mouth agape, searching for the sedan in the sea of SUVs. The parking lot was crowded. Like the mall on Christmas eve crowded (maybe not in THIS economy, but like it used to be). Crowds of parents and students and siblings poured in from across the streets as many were turned away and were forced to park in the adjacent neighborhoods. I inched further along. Jaden and Dillon were nattily dressed in their 1st Day of 1st Grade clothes, and Ethan was in his favorite little brother attire: Small Paul Monkey print T-shirt and cargo shorts. A mini-van inched back. Victory!
Kendra unloaded the boys and their Day 1 supplies as I unfolded the stroller and strapped Ethan in for the ride. It was not quite 8:15, but the heat was noticeable, and it was being compounded by the humidity from the previous night’s thunderstorms. I smiled pleasantly at the parade of vehicles that passed, trying not too look too pleased with myself for finding a parking space close to the crosswalk at the entrance to the school. After all, it was a stressful day for parents, and I didn’t need to come back to slashed tires or anything like that. We made our way past the backs of parents pressed closely to the fences of the Kindergarten Corral over to the grade-school playground, and as we turned the corner I felt as though I’d suddenly found ourselves on Main Street in Disneyland. The crowd was unbelievable. Jaden, who had to this point exhibited no sign of concern or apprehension, paused in his tracks and allowed his jaw to drop slightly in amazement before snapping to and beginning to fight his way through the masses over to the designated waiting area.
We struggled upstream like determined salmon and the heat began to become an active player in the growing chaos. Grandma attempted to capture the occasion through photography, but the heavy backpacks and mounting heat rendered the boys unwilling to stand and pose for very long. We finally made our way to the teacher and their classmates, and the boys happily set down their burdens. Jaden ran off to the swings to try to generate a breeze to cool himself down, and Dillon… where is Dillon?
The next 3-5 minutes (felt like 30 – 50) provided a decades worth of terror. The heat (now registering just north of 98 degrees plus the humidity at 8:30 am – you read that correctly), combined with the swarming crowd was having a dizzying effect on me. Sweat was beading down my forehead and into my eyes… I couldn’t focus on faces… Kendra and I were searching the crowd for faces, for clothing, hair, anything that would point him out for us. I circled the area while Kendra wove through the lines. There was no use calling out for him… the noise level was immense. Suddenly the bell. All the kids froze, and the noisy roar was immediately reduced to murmured conversations. I walked slowly trying to take advantage of the motionless herd…my mind racing with images of the press conference where we are flashing photos of Dillon and I am screaming threats into the cameras at whomever stole my son…my heart was racing and the heat was very intense… I could hardly breathe… Kendra and I exchanged glances…nothing…she was calm… she knew he had likely just wandered off to explore… I was approaching a meltdown…the second bell. Now all the children hurried into lines. The smaller children took cues from the older kids and sought out teachers waving signs with the teacher’s last name and class written on it… they lined up single file… the parents began to separate from the students… my vantage point improved…still no Dillon. I was about to be in full panic at this point…I searched the area for the principal to alert her of the situation… then casually from the far end of the playground strolled Dillon. I resisted the urge to sprint to him and ask if he was ok and find out what happened, where he had been… I walked toward him and he toward me…”I can’t find my backpack”. “Oh…it’s over here buddy”. He was unaffected… I had to let go of my hysteria so he wouldn’t be alarmed. I took him by the hand over to his classmates. He eagerly strapped his backpack on and soldiered along with his group toward the flagpole for the morning pledge.
The school put together what would have been a beautiful harmony concert of God Bless America as part of the morning activities… had it been performed indoors under the air conditioning of the cafeteria or even outdoors in a sub 90 degree morning, I think it would have been more widely appreciated. As it was, the children waited patiently through all the pomp and circumstance… sweaty little pink faces stared blankly as they marched obediently from place to place. Sweat dripped down tiny faces; new sundresses and polo shirts were soaked with kiddy sweat and wrinkled and gathered from restless hands clutching at collars for relief from the heat. Little hairdos fell flat, and pigtails and ponytails began to unravel. Moms and dads escorted our little ones down the hallways and into the classrooms. The AC provided little relief for those brief moments in the building. Kendra maintained her composure admirably as she bid farewell to her little men… her daily companions for all but a couple months of their six years of life. I was proud of her bravery (even if she was the last parent to leave the room). I stood in the hallway with Ethan in his stroller, both of us trying to recover, and I exchanged shrugs and curses of the heat with the other exiting parents. I looked in and saw Jaden look down at a piece of paper that had been handed out to the class. He smiled and looked over to his classmate and said, “1st grade is going to be easy!”
Kendra left the room with a sad smile on her face… she knew her guys would be just fine… she was just a little unsure if she would.