I forgot my kid at school

Today, I forgot my kid at school.

The story is a classic scheduling screw-up–specifically, my screw-up, my parenting fail–caused by an extra busy time at work, by stressors in my personal sphere, and by an imperfect calendaring system.

Here’s what happened: my son, R, is a kindergartener, which means we are still getting used to the public school calendar, including early dismissals and holidays. His school held parent-teacher conferences last Wednesday and Thursday and this Wednesday and Thursday (note the emphasis on “this”). These conferences meant half-days of school. My son’s after-school program provided extended coverage for those who needed it, and this worked out very well for us last week. R went to after-school from 12:15 to 6:00 PM on Wednesday and had a blast, spending an extra long time with his friends and even watching a Halloween cartoon. On Thursday, I picked him up as usual at 12:15 PM (his school closes every Thursday at 12:15 PM and I have a flexible schedule to accommodate that), and we spent the afternoon with his sister, trick or treating and celebrating Halloween. Everything went according to schedule.

Jump ahead to this week, and our family’s routine is in shambles. I’m “away” on a business trip; away, means that I’m downtown, working the conference my employer sponsors every year, but, since the days are so long, I’m staying in a hotel near the conference site instead of at home. My husband therefore is carrying the load, with help from a babysitter and his mom who had volunteered to get our son when school let out at 3:15 PM today.

Only school didn’t let out at 3:15 PM today. Remember those parent-teacher conferences?

This morning, my husband sent R to school with a note that said he didn’t need to go to after-school; his Nana, my mother-in-law, was going to pick him up. I even remembered to text my husband to confirm he had sent this note this morning (he had).  So, at 12:15 PM, the bus left for after-school, and my son waited for his Nana. And, waited. And, waited.

Thirty minutes after school ended, he was still waiting. That’s when the first call from his school showed up on the call log on my cell phone. Only I missed the call because I was dealing with something at my conference. I missed the second call, too.

One hour and fifteen minutes after my son was supposed to be picked up from school, I looked at my phone and discovered the two missed calls, and a text from my husband saying that school had ended early and our son had been left behind. He was on his way to get him. Poor Nana had been called, too, and she panicked thinking she had messed up, but, nope, it was me, keeper of our family’s master calendar who completely missed the half-day.

I was sitting in an office with almost all of my coworkers when I realized what happened and did what  any stressed out parent would do: I burst into tears. Not just a few drops, either. A full-on torrent. One of those crying jags that removes all of your makeup and leaves you physically exhausted.

What a mess. Me, that is.

My poor coworkers offered hugs, fancy coffee drinks, and their own stories from being forgotten at school as children (which, while funny, may have traumatized me more since the stories were remembered in excruciating detail, confirming my fear I had damaged my son).

But, R was fine. He had waited in the office with the administrators and looked at books until my husband got there (having to leave work early during a super stressful week for him). Once reunited, they called me and R told me “It’s ok, Mama” in his sweet, happy voice, as I sobbed. He was fine; my husband let him watch Chuggington and R may have even scored some Halloween candy.

I felt–I still feel–like such a failure. I’m surprised that I am writing this post without crying, in fact. Leaving him there tapped into my deepest parental fear: something bad happens to my family. I’m grateful that R was well taken care of, that this scheduling mistake occurred in an environment where he was safe and known, and that my husband could, despite his own professional responsibilities, swoop in to get him.

Hours later, I shared the story with a colleague, as if I was compelled to unload my guilt. She offered a hug, reminding me that R was safe. He would forget about this. I would likely carry it forever, of course, but that’s my burden, thankfully–not his.

This is a painful way for me to accept that I need a better system to track our increasingly complicated lives. It may be time to chuck my hard-copy, write-in, cross-out date book in favor of a shared family electronic calendar. Me, the one who is so organized, has been slow to abandon the date book; I love carrying it! But, to alleviate my now deeply ingrained fear of another screw-up like today, it may be time.


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